US Government Spies on Citizens’ Twitter Accounts

A biannual transparency report released by Twitter covering the first half of 2012 revealed some enlightening intelligence about government information requests on the social network. In this report, Twitter outlined a number of different information, copyright, and content removal requests received over a six-month span between January and June of 2012.

Of the 849 government-issued user information requests made in 2012, the United States topped the chart at 679. Japan, which claims 98 of these requests, is a distant second, with third place at a tie of 11 between Canada and the United Kingdom.

These requests, some of which include multiple Twitter accounts, were honored by Twitter in 75% of the cases relating to the United States. The other 25% failed to meet criteria required by Twitter to release information on its users. These requirements include narrow information parameters and the naming of specific twitter account(s) where more information is needed. If a user disputes an information request after Twitter notifies them, then the request may be denied or delayed on those grounds.

If You Thought Governments Were Bad…

On a positive note: No removal requests were made by the United States (or any other country) were honored by Twitter.

The same can’t be said for copyright claims made during the six-month period. Over 5,200 tweets were removed (38% of the total requests) after copyright claims were filed by users and brands with an impact on over 5,800 accounts. Of this amount, 599 images and other media files were taken off of Twitter’s servers.

Personally, I’m surprised the volume of copyright takedown requests is so low. With millions of users sharing photos and other information found across the Web, it’s surprising that such a small percentage of them have been targeted for DMCA action.

What Does This Mean?

For citizens of the US, it means that the government has taken an active approach to investigating people for their actions online. It’s a frightening reminder that your actions online aren’t exactly anonymous. In an age where civil unrest around the world is at an all-time high, I question whether or not US citizens will actually have the ability to defend their rights in the event of a local uprising here at home.

I don’t advocate using Twitter for aggressive or hurtful activities like harassment and bullying. In fact, I hope that all of these cases were due to legal action being taken against a bully or anyone else who might wish to do harm to another individual through the social network.

What worries me most is that the whistleblowers and political thought leaders of the world are being targeted. One of the greatest rights we love to boast about here in the US is the freedom of speech. If it really exists, does this freedom come at the cost of our privacy?

What do you think about this situation on Twitter? Is it even a big deal at all? Why do you think the US plays such a large role in this report over any other country in the world?

Image and Data: Twitter

Article Written by

Ryan Matthew Pierson has worked as a broadcaster, writer, and producer for media outlets ranging from local radio stations to internationally syndicated programs. His experience includes every aspect of media production. He has over a decade of experience in terrestrial radio, Internet multimedia, and commercial video production.