Fighting for more #transparency

Thursday, 6 February 2014

As we’ve shown over the years, Twitter is firmly committed to enabling free expression around the world and providing meaningful transparency to our users. In light of ongoing revelations about government surveillance, we’ve taken a public stand in support of increased transparency and Global Government Surveillance Reform.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and various communications providers reached an agreement allowing disclosure of national security requests in very large ranges. While this agreement is a step in the right direction, these ranges do not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public, especially for entities that do not receive a significant number of – or any – national security requests.

As previously noted, we think it is essential for companies to be able to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds – including national security letters and different types of FISA court orders – separately from reporting on all other requests. For the disclosure of national security requests to be meaningful to our users, it must be within a range that provides sufficient precision to be meaningful. Allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency. In addition, we also want the freedom to disclose that we do not receive certain types of requests, if, in fact, we have not received any.

For the disclosure of national security requests to be meaningful to our users, it must be within a range that provides sufficient precision to be meaningful.

Unfortunately, we are currently prohibited from providing this level of transparency. We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs. We believe there are far less restrictive ways to permit discussion in this area while also respecting national security concerns. Therefore, we have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users. We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.

These issues aside, our latest transparency report includes two years of data covering global government requests for account information (unfortunately, as noted above, the report still excludes U.S. national security requests), worldwide requests to withhold content, and copyright takedown and counter notices we’ve received. Perhaps not surprisingly, we’ve seen a steady increase in information requests since publishing our first report in 2012, and we’re not alone in seeing this trend. Over the past 24 months, we’ve received a 66% increase in requests for account information coming from more than 45 different countries impacting over 6,400 accounts (~.0028% of 230M active users) around the world.Fighting for more #transparency

The majority of global government requests for account information still come from the U.S. government (59% in the latest report). To provide more insight into these requests, we’ve separated emergency requests from non-emergency requests that we have received from U.S. law enforcement for the first time. For non-U.S. information requests, we’ve made note of countries where we’ve received only emergency disclosure requests.

We’re also introducing country reports today, which combine all of the previous reports’ data into comprehensive, country-specific resources; you can find a country report by clicking its name in either of the main report tables (here, or here). As a truly international service with more than 75% of Twitter accounts registered outside the U.S. and 35+ languages currently supported, these new pages represent a step in making the report more useful to people all over the globe. We have also set a goal to translate the entire transparency site this year.

Finally, we are encouraged to see an increasing number of companies publish their own transparency reports, and have added links to many of those reports on our site. We very much would like to see transparency reports become commonplace for all companies that handle user data and receive government requests. Indeed, transparency is critical for building and maintaining user trust and trust from the larger public, and for fostering a healthy and vibrant global community committed to defending free expression.