Ethan A. Huff
February 3, 2013
Social networking giant Twitter has released a new report outlining all subpoenaed, court ordered, and search warranted requests made by the U.S. government for private information about the site’s users throughout the past year. And based on the figures, not only is the overall number of such requests steadily expanding, but Twitter is also increasingly being coerced into releasing this confidential data without legitimate probable cause or warrant.
During the first and second quarters of 2012, Twitter received a total of 849 requests for information, according to the report, about 80 percent of which came from the U.S. Roughly 12 percent of the requests made during this time came from Japan, while the remaining came from Canada, the U.K. and elsewhere. Overall, Twitter responded to 63 percent of these requests by providing some or all of the information requested, and rejected the other 37 percent.
But during the third and fourth quarters of 2012, the number of requests increased by nearly 20 percent over the previous two quarters. During Q1 and Q2, the U.S. government alone made a total of 679 requests, but during Q3 and Q4 this number jumped to 815 requests, representing a 20 percent increase. And even though Twitter’s response rate to these requests decreased slightly from 63 percent to 57 percent between the first and second halves of the year, the figures suggest governments are increasingly seeking user data for internal purposes.
Private information shared with, or tracked by, Twitter could end up in the hands of Big Brother
Twitter has indicated publicly that it tries its best only to divulge information when the law permits. But according to a Wired.com report, the site and many others are sometimes strong-armed by governments into handing over private data without even a probable cause justification. The Patriot Act, for example, and other unconstitutional mandates set forth mostly in the last decade provision that government agencies can gather intelligence apart from constitutional guidelines.
“Last year … [Twitter ] was forced against its wishes to divulge the tweets and account information associated with the account of Malcolm Harris, who was arrested in an October Occupy movement march along the Brooklyn Bridge,” writes David Kravets for Wired.com. “Twitter fought for harris, but in the end lost, even though no probable-cause warrant  was used by New York state prosecutors.”
According to Twitter policy, the company tries to notify users when requests for data occur “unless we are prohibited from doing so by law or in an emergency situation.” But in practice, only about 24 percent of the requests made result in users being notified, while the other 76 percent are processed discreetly. Twitter has also indicated that it keeps a detailed and “complex” log of its users’ behavior that tracks their every move, information that could also be getting released to government agencies upon request.