Twitter, Google Shed Light on Their Responses to Law Enforcement Requests for User Data

privacy, social media, social networks, transparency

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Google and Twitter released information on the requests they received from law enforcement officials in the second half of 2012, with both companies facing more such demands.

In the second half of the year, Google saw total international requests for user data rise by 60 percent to 33,634. In its second transparency report, Twitter reported an 18 percent increase in the number of requests, from 849 in the first half of the year to just over 1,000 in the second half.

In both cases, the bulk of the requests come from U.S. law enforcement agencies.

The companies have begun to ramp up pressure for officials to provide search warrants instead of simply subpoenas. However, both continue to provide data to many requests accompanied by subpoenas, their own reports reveal.

“Subpoenas are the most common form of legal process issued under the Stored Communications Act; they do not generally require a judge’s sign-off and usually seek basic subscriber information, such as the email address associated with an account and IP logs,” Twitter explained in its report.

Google also emphasized the higher level of scrutiny for requests backed by search warrants.

“We require that government agencies conducting criminal investigations use a search warrant to compel us to provide a user’s search query information and private content stored in a Google Account—such as Gmail messages, documents, photos and YouTube videos. We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure,” wrote Google’s chief legal officer David Drummond on the company’s blog.

Twitter said that 60 percent of domestic requests were backed by a subpoena, while with a just under 20 percent of domestic requests came with a search warrant. Google’s numbers showed a similar breakdown.

Yet Twitter provided at least some data in response to nearly 70 percent of domestic requests and Google in response to roughly 90 percent of domestic law enforcement requests.

Google will continue to lobby for updates to “laws like the U.S. Electronic Communications Privacy Act, so the same protections that apply to your personal documents that you keep in your home also apply to your email and online documents,” Drummond wrote.

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