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Twitter reports a rise in government data requests

The number of government requests worldwide seeking Twitter users’ data, or the removal of content, increased during the first half of 2014.

There were 2,058 total requests to Twitter for user account information, typically connected to criminal investigations, during the first six months of 2014, a 46 percent increase from the second half of 2013, according to the company’s biannual transparency report, released Thursday.

The majority of the account information requests—1,257—came from the U.S. government.

There were 432 requests to remove content, up 14 percent, which are generally made due to content that’s illegal or defamatory in different countries.

Google helped to popularize the transparency report by first revealing in 2010 the number of government data requests it had received. Since then companies such as Facebook, Microsoft and Verizon have released similar reports.

Google, by way of comparison, received more than 27,000 user data requests during the second half of 2013; Microsoft received around 35,000 during the same period.

The ongoing rise in Twitter user-data requests may be due to its international expansion, “but also appears to follow the industry trend,” the company said.

The company identified Turkey as one of several countries that saw a small but significant spike in the volume of data requests. Turkey’s government restricted its citizens’ access to Twitter earlier this year over anti-government speech carried out through the service.

Twitter aims to notify affected users of requests for account information unless the company is prohibited from doing so. The company may not comply with a data request if it fails to identify an actual account or is too broad, the company said.

Still, Twitter produced some information for just slightly more than half of its total data requests, according to the report.

Twitter did not say how many data requests it received related to national security matters. Laws have traditionally restricted companies from breaking out the numbers of national security and U.S. Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requests they receive.

Some progress was made in this area earlier this year, when the Obama administration reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Justice and technology companies to let them disclose those requests, but in ranges of 1,000.

Twitter says that’s not good enough. The company has met with officials from the DOJ and the FBI in an effort to provide clearer numbers, but so far those talks have not been fruitful. Twitter sent a draft of a midyear transparency report to the DOJ in April, providing information about national security requests, but has not received a response yet, the company.

“We are weighing our legal options to provide more transparency to our users,” Twitter said.

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