The push for transparency among big-name technology companies has been an element of their privacy policies for several years; but the concern over how much information tech businesses can relay to users has come increasingly into focus since Edward Snowden’s NSA leaks in 2013. Suddenly, tech giants released information about how they had previously tried to let users know exactly what kinds of data and on whom the U.S. government requested, highlighting the restrictions the administration places on that kind of information. Many of the companies called for expanded measures to be put in place to enlighten the consumer as to how deep the government’s surveillance goes. Even so, users are given little insight into the types of data requested by the U.S. and other countries, and Twitter has been one of the more vocal proponents of increased transparency.
VISUAL CONTEXT: GOOGLE’S DATA REQUESTS
The company’s latest transparency report (it’s fifth one since 2012) details the number of government requests the microblogging site received for account information, content removal, and copyright notices (both takedown notices and counter notices). Twitter also notes whether or not it takes action on those requests. With this last report, Twitter has called out the Department of Justice in making progress towards giving users more insight into the government’s data requests. Jeremy Kessel, senior manager, Global Legal Policy for Twitter, writes in a company blog post about the specifics regarding Twitter’s interactions with the D.O.J.:
…in early April, we sent a draft midyear Transparency Report to DOJ that presented relevant information about national security requests, and asked the Department to return it to us, indicating which information (if any) is classified or otherwise cannot lawfully be published. At this point, over 90 days have passed, and we still have not received a reply.
Between January and June of this year, Twitter received 2,058 requests for account information from 54 countries, with eight countries that had not submitted requests previously. That is a 46% increase from the last report. 432 requests were issued during the same period to remove content from 31 countries — an increase of 14% — with three new countries on that list. 9,199 copyright takedown requests for both Twitter and Vine showed a 38% increase.
All in all, the government has not done much to hearten privacy advocates and companies including Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo — despite a ruling in January that was supposed to relax the rules around what types of information internet companies could supply to users. Twitter’s open criticism of government agencies furthers what many see as a futile argument in attempting to get the D.O.J. on board with legally allowing tech groups to divulge more granular information.