Twitter sees surge in government requests for account information

Twitter has expanded its latest Transparency Report to include information on trademark notices and email providers' privacy practices

Twitter has seen an increase in government demands for account information in the first half of this year, with the U.S. followed by Japan topping the list for such requests.

The increase is the largest ever seen between reporting periods by Twitter, wrote Jeremy Kessel, Twitter's senior manager for global legal policy, in a blog post Tuesday.

The Transparency Report from the company indicated that government requests for account information in the first half were 52 percent more and affected 78 percent more account holders than in the second half of last year.

The scope of the report has been expanded to include information on notices of alleged trademark violations and a section where users can check how different email providers handle the privacy and encryption of email messages from Twitter.

The total number of government requests for account information worldwide was 4,363 in the first half and referred to 12,711 accounts across Twitter, Vine and Periscope. Twitter received 2,436 requests from the U.S. that specified 6,324 accounts, which came largely in the form of subpoenas, which are usually orders to testify or provide information. In the second half of last year, the U.S. had made 1,622 information requests affecting 3,299 accounts.

Content removal requests were also on the upswing at 26 percent higher in the first half of this year in comparison to the second half of last year, and came primarily from Turkey and Russia. The number of accounts impacted also went up by 11 percent.

The increase in content removal requests reflect growing sensitivity in some countries over the use of social media for propaganda and communications by terror groups and political extremists. A court in Turkey blocked in April access to a number of sites, including Twitter and YouTube, as these were used to spread an image of an Istanbul prosecutor held by terrorists at gunpoint.

The content removal requests came through court orders, numbering 442, or requests by local governments including law enforcement agencies, which added up to 561 in the first half. Turkey accounted for a whopping 408 removal orders from courts and another 310 requests through government and law enforcement agencies. Content removal requests resulted in the withholding of 147 accounts and 1,723 tweets for Russia and Turkey alone. Twitter is also seeing an increase in requests for content removal in the last six months from Iraq, Malaysia and Mongolia.

The company, under its "Country Withheld Content" policy, sometimes withholds access on request to certain content in a particular country to meet local regulations, but does not block it from being viewed outside the country. Since its first report was published in 2012, Twitter has used CWC in nine countries, including Brazil, France, Germany, India, Japan, the Netherlands, Russia, Turkey and the U.K.

John Ribeiro covers outsourcing and general technology breaking news from India for The IDG News Service. Follow John on Twitter at @Johnribeiro. John's e-mail address is john_ribeiro@idg.com

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