Twitter and Government Requests for Information

Government requests for information from social networks are on the rise. Twitter recently released statistics on government information requests for the six months ended June 30. These requests are typically in response to criminal case investigations, and while I knew that some social media content is admissible in court, I wasn’t aware of the scope of what is actually happening.

twitter-drawingIn the last 6 months, Twitter received 1,157 requests pertaining to 1,697 Twitter user accounts, an increase (in requests) of almost 15% versus the 6 months ended in December. In 55% of the cases, Twitter submitted some or all of the information requested. Of those 1.157 requests, 902 came from within the United Sates.

According to Twitter’s Guidelines for Law Enforcement, they require a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process to disclose user information, and it appears that Twitter will release information more freely from public accounts than those which are private.

Regarding government surveillance, Twiiter claims that they’re working on it:

“We have joined forces with industry peers and civil liberty groups to insist that the United States government allow for increased transparency into these secret orders.”

For the 45% of government requests to which Twitter did not supply the requested information (33% in the U.S.), I haven’t seen any mention of what the grounds for refusals were.

Twitter’s stated intent is to inform each user when a government request is made, but 20% of U.S. Twitter request were made under seal, meaning that Twitter was unable to notify the user.

Twitter’s privacy policies have been better than most to date, so I’d expect them to continue to represent and protect users well, to the extent that the law allows them.


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