UK

Twitter Transparency Report 2013 Reveals UK Government Is Top Information Hunter

13/08/2013 10:15 BST | Updated 13/08/2013 12:42 BST
PA
General view of the Twitter application in use on a computer screen.

The British government has requested more account information from Twitter about its users than countries often criticised for their human rights record such as Ecuador, Turkey, Venezuela and Saudi Arabia.

Details of formal applications for data are revealed in Twitter's latest Transparency Report which relates to the first half of 2013.

It states the UK has made 26 formal approaches for user information, putting it third in the world table behind only the USA (902) and Japan (87).

Turkey, Venezuela, Switzerland, Singapore and Saudi Arabia all made fewer requests than the UK at 10, while Qatar, Indonesia, Israel and Peru made no applications. Russia and China were not included.

The report (released at the end of July) comes as headlines are dominated with stories of trolling and abuse being carried out on the social network.

Before releasing the information, Twitter was forced onto the back foot over its lack of action over abusive tweets. It has since revealed it plans to include a button for reporting abuse within every tweet.

According to Twitter:

"The United States leads the way, comprising 78% of all requests received. Japan remains the second largest requester with a total of 8% of overall requests, up from 6% in July - December 2012. Brazil dropped from third overall in the last report to the number four spot with the United Kingdom moving up to number three, comprising 3% of total requests received during the first half of 2013.

"Since the inception of our Transparency Report in July 2012, we have received inquiries from a total of 35 different governments. From January - June 2013, we received requests from 26 different governments, with an increase of ~15% since July - December 2012."

FULL REPORT HERE

But for Nick Pickles, director of privacy and civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch, the debate about information being provided to governments goes a lot deeper.

“While the UK lags behind the US when it comes to requesting data, the trend is towards more user data being requested by the authorities.

"What is concerning is that in 85% of cases, Twitter did not disclose the data requested and we need to be sure that is not because requests are being made without proper basis or too broadly, particularly when only a tiny fraction are made through the formal legal process in US courts.

“What is becoming increasingly absurd is that we learn more about the way British surveillance powers are used from the transparency reports of US companies like Twitter, Google and Microsoft.

"If the public are to have confidence that in the wake of recent revelations these powers are being used proportionately, far more information needs to be provided by the Government.

“Particularly given the high number of requests from regimes that are far from democratic, it is essential that Britain significantly increases the amount of information made public about requests for data and ensures that formal, legal processes are in place and not relying on voluntary arrangements with no judicial oversight.”

Twitter said in its report: "Information requests include worldwide government requests we’ve received for user account information, typically in connection with criminal investigations or cases."

UPDATE: The Cabinet Office responded by saying that if criminal cases are being investigated then it is unable comment.