Twitters Transparancy Report and Government Surveillance
Posted by Bradley W. Deacon
As reported in the Huffington Post on 28 January 2013, Twitters second transparency report was released last week and the report disclosed that 1,009 requests for Twitter account information was received by Twitter from July 2012 to December 2012.
Twitters Manager of legal policy, Jeremy Kessel, said in a recent blog post that: “It is vital for us (and other Internet services) to be transparent about government requests for user information and government requests to withhold content from the Internet,” where he believed that: “These growing inquiries can have a serious chilling effect on free expression — and real privacy implications.”
Under US law, Twitter is often asked to hand over data without warrant under the 1986 Electronic Communication Privacy Act where the requests are usually for E-Mail addresses associated with the Twitter account.
It is interesting to note in the Transparency Report that Twitter received requests from almost 30 countries for user information and almost all were denied as Twitter believes that it is under no obligation to hand over information to foreign governments because almost all of its servers and employees are in the US.
However as announced recently, Twitter is planning to open an office in Australia in 2013, and as they will have an Australian presence they may well find requests from local law enforcement agencies being served on them for information.
Will Twitter be a ‘good corporate citizen’ and comply with Australian requests or will they ignore such requests by saying that all of its data is stored offshore and therefore not subjected to Australian laws?
Recently in a radio interview, Communications Minister Stephen Conroy voiced his frustration, where he said: “My department has been trying to get in touch but they (Twitter) have no Australian presence,” and it is well known that these frustrations are held by many government and law enforcement agencies across the globe.
Maybe the Australian office will be the solution or will Australian authorities have to continue to rely on the Mutual Assistance In Criminal Matters Act 1987 (Cth), which from experience can be a very slow process that requires requests being made by the Australian Attorney Generals Office to member states.
Mutual assistance is an important tool in obtaining evidence for the investigation and prosecution of transnational crime, particularly drug trafficking, fraud, money laundering, child pornography and other child exploitation offences and terrorism offences.
As outlined in the Australian Attorney Generals Mutual Assistance In Criminal Matters legislation summary, mutual assistance is the process countries use to obtain government to government assistance in criminal investigations and prosecutions. Mutual assistance is also used to recover the proceeds of crime. Mutual assistance to and from Australia is governed by the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987 (Cth) (the Mutual Assistance Act).
Australia can make requests to any foreign country and can receive requests from any foreign country where countries assist on the understanding that they will receive assistance in return when the need arises and the process is assisted by over 25 bilateral mutual assistance treaties to which Australia is a party.
Overview of the Mutual Assistance Process
Overall, it will be interesting to see how Twitter will operate their Australian office and most importantly how will they deal with law enforcement requests for user information.
Australian Attorney Generals International Relations 2013, http://www.ag.gov.au/Internationalrelations/Internationalcrimecooperationarrangements/MutualAssistance/Documents/Mutual%20assistance%20overview.pdf accessed 28 January 2013.
Posted on January 30, 2013, in Legislation, Twitter Trolls and tagged Australia, Federal government of the United States, Google, Government Requests tool, Huffington Post, Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1987, Stephen Conroy, Twitter, United States, User information. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.