The Government Is Still Trying to Spy on a Lot of Your Twitter and Google Data

The Atlantic

On the occasion of Data Privacy Day, Twitter has released its second biannual Transparency Report and — what do you know? — Twitter is still giving away more user information requested by the U.S. government than ever, and without a warrant. It's the continuation of a frightening trend that's as frightening as it is growing; as the likes of Google and Twitter tell us more about how we're being spied on, we're still not sure how much of our data the government's actually getting back.

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According to Twitter's data — housed on a new dedicated site but focusing on information requested from the government rather than granted by the site — in the last six months more than 80 percent of the U.S. government's asks on user data came without a warrant:

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According to the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, authorities only need a warrant for electronic communications that are six months old or newer. For everything else, including IP and email addresses, a subpoena, which doesn't involve a judge at all, will still suffice as far as the law is concerned. It's hard to tell if the warrantless search number represents an increase from six months ago, when Twitter put out its first transparency report. The company didn't break down the types of requests last year when looking into its media-sharing numbers. But it did get more overall notices from the government in the last six months, with 815 total requests in the last six months, compared to the 679 Twitter got in the first half of 2012. 

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Google, too, has seen an uptick in government requests, including a number of warrantless searches. Its transparency report from last week reported a total 21,389 requests for information, 68 percent of which were subpoenas. This was also the first time Google broke down government info requests by type, so the warrantless-request uptick remains difficult to measure. But, again, the overall notices increased from 20,938 government requests in Google's 2011 report.

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U.S. officials are asking for more of what we're doing from more of our daily Internet activities — and more often than not, they're doing so without getting a court's permission. The privacy act is part of that, and so is a growing database of government eyes. Google, however, is hoping to change that. The search giant has increased its lobbying efforts to get the outdated privacy changed, reports Bloomberg's Eric Engleman. In 2012, Google spent $16.5 million on lobbying, up from $9.7 million the year before. This year, the Senate will vote on an updated version of the ECPA that requires a warrant for all email and private communication stored over the cloud. Google is in talks with other advocacy groups to creating a coalition to get those reforms passed, a Google spokesman told Bloomberg.

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