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Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Governments, Led by U.S., Seek More Data About Twitter Users

The number of requests for Twitter user data from governments around the world continued to grow in the first half of 2013, the microblogging service said in its semiannual transparency report, released Wednesday.

Over all, Twitter said, it received 1,157 requests for data covering 1,697 users, and it turned over at least some data in 55 percent of the cases. The number of requests was up about 15 percent from the last six months of 2012, the company said.

Government agencies in the United States, where just 30 percent of Twitter’s active users reside, accounted for most of the demands, issuing 902 requests for data covering 1,319 users in the first six months of 2013. (Japan was second, with 87 requests covering 103 accounts.)

In a blog post accompanying the report, Twitter noted that the figures excluded any requests made by the United States government under national security laws, including the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.

Under law, those requests are secret. But recent leaks by the former National Security Agency contractor Edward J. Snowden have suggested that the government makes frequent and broad demands for information about the customers of Twitter, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and other computer and telecommunications companies. The leaks set off a storm of controversy about the government’s practices, and Congress is now considering legislation to limit the surveillance and disclose more information about requests made.

“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,” Twitter said in its blog post. “We believe it’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests - including FISA disclosures - separately from non-secret requests. Unfortunately, we are still not able to include such metrics.”

Other companies, including Facebook, Apple and Microsoft, have chosen to disclose the number of government data requests in broad ranges that also include national security requests, but Twitter and Google have said that copying that approach would actually result in them disclosing less data to their users.