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Twitter received fewer information requests from government agencies in the first half of 2021 — but complied with more

Twitter received fewer information requests from government agencies in the first half of 2021 — but complied with more


Longer term trends show the social platform denying more requests from law enforcement over time

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

In the first half of 2021, Twitter received fewer user information requests from governments and law enforcement agencies than in the six months before — but increased its compliance to a level that meant more user information was released overall.

That’s according to data published by the social media platform Tuesday as part of its latest transparency report. The Information Requests report lists the number of requests as 12,369 globally between January and June 2021, with an overall compliance rate of 36.2 percent. In the previous reporting period for the last six months of 2020, Twitter received 14,561 requests and complied with 30 percent.

Overall, Twitter said that the volume of user information requests had decreased by 15 percent compared to the previous reporting period for the last six months of 2020. But the social platform also complied with a higher proportion of requests, leading to a higher number of successful requests in total.

Twitter did not respond to a request for comment by time of publication.

According to the report, agencies associated with the United States government accounted for just under one quarter (24 percent) of government information requests from January to June 2021. The second highest volume of requests came from India, which comprised 18 percent of global information requests, and Japan was third globally.

In keeping with global patterns, US agencies submitted fewer information requests in total than in the previous reporting period — a 7 percent decrease — but received an increase in compliance that resulted in more successful requests overall.

During the first half of 2021, Twitter said that it complied with 68 percent of requests from US agencies, a significant increase on the 2020 average of 59.5 percent compliance. But over the longer term, Twitter has become less likely to comply with these requests: in 2015 and 2016, the compliance rate for requests from US agencies was around 80 percent.

In its guidance to law enforcement, Twitter states that non-public information about Twitter users (e.g., IP address logs and other details about the account holder) will not be released except in response to legal process, such as a subpoena or court order, except in the case of an emergency like a terrorist incident or other imminent physical threat to harm. Requests for the contents of communications between users, such as direct messages, also require a search warrant according to these guidelines.

“Twitter generally requires a search warrant to disclose any contents of communications, since users have the greatest privacy interest in this type of information,” the report page for US information requests explained. “However, Twitter may disclose content in the U.S. without receiving a search warrant in rare circumstances, in accordance with applicable law. For example, if there is an emergency involving an imminent threat of death or serious bodily harm, in response to certain national security requests, or with the account-holder’s lawful consent.”

Twitter also reports child sexual exploitation content as required by US law, the report said.