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Governments increase removal, information release requests to Twitter

Twitter is under increasing pressure from governments around the world to release users' private information, while Turkey takes second place in content removal requests, the microblogging company said on Wednesday in its semi-annual transparency report. The report shows that the government requests for user data rose by 40 percent in the first six months of 2013. The United States made three-quarters of the 1,157 user data requests during the six-month period, according to the San Francisco-based company's report. With 17 requests in total, the Russian Federation made the most content removal requests and all of its requests were made either by government agencies or police. Turkey took the second place with seven requests in total, with three of the requests being from a court and other four from government agencies or police. However, none of the requests were fulfilled by Twitter. In the first half of the year, there were a total of 1,157 user data information requests from governments, 902 of which were made by the United States. The US was followed by Japan with 87 requests and Turkey only made 10 user data information requests. The majority of the requests come in the form of court-issued subpoenas, Twitter said.

Governments usually seek the emails or IP addresses tied to a Twitter account. In one well-known case, a French court ordered Twitter in February to turn over information about an anonymous account that posted anti-Semitic tweets. Twitter, which had initially resisted by arguing that the data was stored beyond French jurisdiction in its California servers, ultimately complied in June.

Efforts to censor Twitter content have also risen sharply, the company said. “Over the last six months, we have gone from withholding content in two countries to withholding content (ranging from hate speech to defamation) in seven countries,” said Twitter legal policy manager Jeremy Kessel.

Twitter was censored the most in Brazil, where courts issued orders on nine occasions to remove a total of 39 defamatory tweets.

The report did not include secret information requests within the United States authorized under the Patriot Act, a law enacted after the Sept. 11 attacks. US companies are prohibited from acknowledging the existence of data requests made under those statutes.

Transparency reports such as the one published semi-annually by Twitter have been a particularly contentious issue in Silicon Valley in the wake of a series of leaks in June by former security contractor Edward Snowden, who alleged that major service providers including Google Inc., Facebook Inc. and Microsoft Corp. systematically pass along huge troves of user data to the National Security Agency.

The companies, which have denied the scope of Snowden's allegations, have asked the US government for permission to reveal the precise number of national security requests they receive in order to publicly argue that their cooperation with the government has been relatively limited. The negotiations between the companies, which include Twitter, remain ongoing, but firms including Microsoft and Facebook released in June some approximate figures of how many users have been affected by the data dragnet cast by US intelligence.

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