Australian authorities have requested private data from Twitter about users more than any other country except the United States and Japan, according to the company’s latest transparency figures.
The latest Twitter Transparency Report said that during the first half of this year the country’s law-enforcement agencies requested personally identifiable information on 58 users or accounts belonging to Australians, spread across fewer than ten separate user information requests.
That made Australia far from the least prolific requester of information, but each of its requests covered a large number of people: Australia’s total of 58 users investigated was behind the US (1319 users in 902 requests) and Japan (103 users in 87 requests), with Brazil (44 users in 22 requests), France (35 users in 18 requests) and the UK (29 users in 26 requests) comprising the top 6 countries.
The figures for Australia were particularly high given the country’s relatively small population (22.3 million) compared with the US (311.6 million), Brazil (196.7 million) Japan (127.8 million), and even France (65.4 million).
As well as its high per-capita request rate, Australian requests for data were relatively successful, with 25 per cent resulting in the production of some or all of the requested information. By comparison, Brazil enjoyed 32 per cent success, Japan 16 per cent, the UK 15 per cent, and France 11 per cent. Requests by the US government produced some or all of the requested information fully 67 per cent of the time.
Overall, Twitter handled 1157 information requests in the first half of the year, compared with 1009 requests the previous half and 849 in the year-ago half.
Improving transparency of information requests has become a sticking point for Twitter, which has come front and centre in discussions about increasing government surveillance of online information. In a blog post on the launch of the latest report, the company said it was “steadfastly committed to being transparent” about government takedown orders and had ‘un-withheld’ content for the first time this year.
“An important conversation has begun about the extent to which companies should be allowed to publish information regarding national security requests,” the company wrote. “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.”
“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.”
That didn’t stop Twitter from publishing information on other types of requests. Cease-and-desist requests for content removal rose dramatically, from just 6 in the first half of 2012 to 60 in the first half of this year. However, on this metric Australia was barely on the charts, with just two removal requests from government agencies or police and none of those actually resulting in withheld content.
Nine court orders and one government request in Brazil resulted in the suspension of one account (judged defamatory) and 39 tweets, while French authorities blocked 12 hate-speech tweets in three separate orders. Germany blocked three Twitter users through one court order and three agency requests – targeted at a banned neo-Nazi organisation – while Korea and the Netherlands each blocked five tweets.
Russian authorities were the most prolific user of removal requests, with 17 different agency requests resulting in the suspension of four users and eight tweets. On instructions of the Federal Service for Supervision in the Sphere of Telecom, IT and Mass Communications, thirteen accounts were found to have promoted drug use or suicide, in contravention of federal law.
Despite two court orders pertaining to 11 users, the United States saw no tweets or users forcibly removed, no doubt reflecting that country’s strong freedom-of-speech protections.
The last category Twitter tracks, copyright notices, grew by 76% from the second half of 2012, from 3268 to 5753 requests. These takedown notices, lodged under the provisions of the US Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), resulted in the removal of 18,413 tweets and 3,993 media files – including profile photos, header photos, background images, Twitter-hosted media, and videos from Twitter’s Vine video service – from 22,399 different user accounts.
The most prolific lodgers of takedown notices were Remove Your Media (696 notices for 11,706 media), the Recording Industry Association of America (474 notices for 2044 media), and Copyright Integrity (164 notices for 1721 media).