Twitter is a real-time, finger-on-the-pulse measure of public opinion–so it’s no surprise that governments are interested in finding out details about some of the social network’s users.
In a new transparency report covering the last six months of 2014, Twitter reveals a whopping 40% increase in governmental user information requests since just last July—bringing the total number of requests to around 2,871. The three most data-hungry governments include the United States, Russia, and Turkey. All three prompted the significant increase in the number of data requests being made over the period in question. The U.S., for instance, saw a 29% increase, while Turkey’s requests increased a massive 150%. Russia went from having never before asked for any information about users to suddenly making more than 100 requests.
Turkish data requests mainly focused on supposed violations of personal rights of both private citizens and government officials–although having previously banned Twitter, there is no doubt the country is not the biggest proponent of free speech in social media. Russia, meanwhile, requested information for everything ranging from supposed promotion of illegal drugs by certain users to attempts to suppress non-violent demonstrations. In both cases, Twitter gave up no user information. “[W]e denied several requests to silence popular critics of the Russian government and other demands to limit speech about non-violent demonstrations in Ukraine,” the company noted in a blog post.
In the U.S., surveillance requests hit 1,622: more than half the total number of global requests. Twitter surrendered information in 80% of cases—although it is outspoken about not being happy about doing it. Currently, Twitter is suing the U.S. government over claims its First Amendment rights are being violated by the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) it receives from the feds each year.
In its transparency report, Twitter notes that publishing information about how much data it hands over can raise questions, but that the company feels morally obligated to do so:
“Providing this level of transparency is not without its complications and sometimes means we get tough questions and criticism about our decisions. However, this candid feedback helps us to be evermore thoughtful about our policies and decisions regarding content and compliance as we navigate complex, diverse legal regimes around the world. As more companies consider publishing or expanding their own reports, we strongly encourage them to join us and our peers at Google, Vimeo, WordPress and Wikimedia in publishing government removal demands. The global community deserves this level of transparency from its governments and its service providers.”