Twitter warns of ‘record highs’ in account data requests


Twitter has published its 20th transparency report, and the details still aren’t reassuring to those concerned about abuses of personal info. The social network saw “record highs” in the number of account data requests during the July-December 2021 reporting period, with 47,572 legal demands on 198,931 accounts. The media in particular faced much more pressure. Government demands for data from verified news outlets and journalists surged 103 percent compared to the last report, with 349 accounts under scrutiny.

The largest slice of requests targeting the news industry came from India (114), followed by Turkey (78) and Russia (55). Governments succeeded in withholding 17 tweets.

As in the past, US demands represented a disproportionately large chunk of the overall volume. The country accounted for 20 percent of all worldwide account info requests, and those requests covered 39 percent of all specified accounts. Russia is still the second-largest requester with 18 percent of volume, even if its demands dipped 20 percent during the six-month timeframe.

The company said it was still denying or limiting access to info when possible. It denied 31 percent of US data requests, and either narrowed or shut down 60 percent of global demands. Twitter also opposed 29 civil attempts to identify anonymous US users, citing First Amendment reasons. It sued in two of those cases, and has so far had success with one of those suits. There hasn’t been much success in reporting on national security-related requests in the US, however, and Twitter is still hoping to win an appeal that would let it share more details.

Calls for data spiked starting in early 2020, and this latest transparency report indicates that they’re only continuing to climb. Twitter sees the attempts to target journalists as a mounting threat to freedom of the press. We’d add that the situation is volatile, at least in the near term. Russia cut off access to Twitter following that country’s invasion of Ukraine, and the company is suing India to resist an order to block accounts. Don’t be surprised if the next report paints a significantly different picture.

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