January 28, 2013
Can You Count On Twitter To Stand Up for Users' Privacy Rights? Most Of the Time, No --- Social Giant Discloses That It Turns Over Requested User Data To U.S. Government 7 Out of 10 Times
In a new transparency report released this week, Twitter offers plenty of detail about the number of times government agencies around the world have asked for information on users — and how often it complied. In the report, Twitter says it gives government agencies in the U.S. at least some of the information they ask for on users 69 percent of the time. As Web-privacy issues continue to mount in the U.S. and around the world, is Twitter playing a risky PR game in an ever-volatile social media world?
As part of its "celebration" of Data Privacy Day on Monday, the microblogger issued its second transparency report, which also discloses how the it responds to government requests for user information, as well as demands to remove tweets and reports of copyright violations. Google issued such a report this week as well, CNET reports.
Although Twitter has a responsibility to provide information on users as a result of official actions like subpoenas and court orders, the company has long taken the public position that it protects users' privacy and anonymity whenever possible. For example, last August, the company fought police attempts in New York to get information on an Occupy Wall Street protester's account, claiming that law enforcement did not adequately follow the Constitution's safeguards against invasion of privacy, CNET reports.
"It's our continued hope that providing greater insight into this information helps in at least two ways," Twitter wrote in a blog post: "first, to raise public awareness about these invasive requests; second, to enable policy makers to make more informed decisions. All of our actions are in the interest of an open and safe Internet," it wrote, reports CNET writer Daniel Terdiman.
"We've been thinking about ways in which we can more effectively share this information, with an aim to make it more meaningful and accessible to the community at large," Twitter said in the post. "We believe the open exchange of information can have a positive global impact. To that end, it is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet; these growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression — and real privacy implications," the company wrote, according to the CNET article.
American government agencies were given at least some of what they were demanding in 69 percent of the 815 cases in which they asked, the report said. "As Twitter is based in San Francisco...the great majority of government information requests for user information we receive come from the United States," the company wrote. "To increase transparency and insight, we're introducing more in-depth details about these requests," it added, the article reports.
Because of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Twitter wrote, search warrants "typically require the most judicial scrutiny before they are issued, including a showing of probable cause and a judge's signature. A properly executed warrant is required for the disclosure of the contents of communications (e.g., tweets, [and direct messages])," it wrote, CNET reports.
Although the parts of Twitter's transparency report that are likely to get the most attention are the company's responses to government officials for information on users, and the amount of offending content removed, it also contained interesting data on how often the company acted on demands that content posted to the social network contained copyright violations, according to the article.