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Data requests rise, and companies comply – San Francisco Chronicle


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Data requests rise, and companies comply – San Francisco Chronicle

  1. 1. Data requests rise, and companies comply – San FranciscoChronicleGovernment agencies around the world are requesting more information about users of popularservices like Twitter and Google, and in the majority of those cases, the companies hand overthe data.On Monday, a date recognized by Congress as “Data Privacy Day,” Twitter reported thatgovernment agencies increased their requests for user information by nearly 19 percent in thesecond half of 2012.Google’s chief legal officer, David Drummond, also used the day to reiterate the search giant’skey initiatives to protect users’ privacy and security in the face of government probing.In the second edition of Twitter’s biannual Transparency Report, the company noted that 815 ofthe 1,009 requests made to it by a government from July to December 2012 came from withinthe United States – 90 percent of them from subpoenas, search warrants and court orders filedby law enforcement agencies. Twitter notifies affected users unless the company is prohibitedfrom doing so by law.Twitter has made efforts to position itself as a protector of free speech, and it hopes to use itsreport to show the implications of government agencies increasing “invasive requests” aboutTwitter members.“It is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests foruser information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet,” Twitter legalpolicy manager Jeremy Kessel wrote in a company blog post. “These growing inquiries canhave a serious chilling effect on free expression – and real privacy implications.”Details of requestsTwitter released its first Transparency Report seven months ago. Monday, it posted morerefined data and created a website to post the report: with government inquiries, the report said there were 3,268 notices filed in the last half of2012 asking Twitter to take down copyright-protected material, mainly by the Recording IndustryAssociation of America or outside firms working on that trade group’s behalf. The number ofnotices filed was slightly down from the first half of the year, but Twitter still had to take down5,557 tweets from 7,205 accounts.There were also about two dozen requests by courts and law enforcement agencies to removetweets that might have been illegal in their jurisdictions, but Twitter removed only the 44 tweetsobjected to in France.Recently a French judge ordered Twitter to hand over details of accounts used to tweet 1/3
  2. 2. anti-Semitic messages, even after those tweets were removed from public view within France.Outdated lawTwitter is not alone in dealing with requests from U.S. government agencies. Due to ambiguitiesin the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Stored Communications Act, lawenforcement agencies can employ a subpoena – not a court-ordered warrant – to request moste-mails and documents stored in cloud services like Google’s Gmail and YouTube, Twitter andFacebook, and file storage services like Dropbox.The law was written in 1986, well before cloud computing or e-mail were household terms.Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who authored ECPA, calls its reform “essential.” Though nomeaningful changes were made last year, Leahy says he will make it a congressional prioritythis year.Digital Due Process, a group comprised of tech companies, government watchdogs andadvocacy groups from both political parties, fights for ECPA reform, calling it “a patchwork ofconfusing standards that have been interpreted inconsistently by the courts, creating uncertaintyfor both service providers and law enforcement agencies.”Twitter, Microsoft, Facebook, Oracle, Amazon, Adobe and Google are just a sample of thegroup’s 75-plus members banding together to change the law.Much asked of GoogleIn terms of user data requests, Google seems to bear the heaviest burden. From July toDecember of 2012, law enforcement agencies in the United States made 14,791 requests forinformation on Google users or accounts, about 70 percent via the less stringent route ofsubpoena. Google complied with about 90 percent of all requests, noting that it doesn’t complywith requests that are “overly broad.” Like Twitter, Google says it notifies users of government requests for their information, thoughsometimes it doesn’t have up-to-date contact information or is legally prohibited from doing soby the order.Google’s Drummond noted in a blog post that most government requests are made during acriminal investigation:“But it’s just as important that laws protect (people) against overly broad requests for (their)personal information,” he wrote. “… We believe a warrant is required by the Fourth Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure and overridesconflicting provisions in ECPA.”Government requests for information put many Internet companies in an awkward position, 2/3
  3. 3. especially those that have prompted privacy concerns regarding their own products and reselling of user information. The requests also can take up employee time and company resources. Caleb Garling and Benny Evangelista are San Francisco Chronicle staff writers. E-mail:, Source Article from hp Data requests rise, and companies comply – San Francisco Chronicle 3/3Powered by TCPDF (