Police Requests for Twitter Data Grew 20% in 2012

Hopefully by this point everyone is aware that the powers that be are monitoring social media. But for anyone who isn’t aware: psst, they’re monitoring social media! Now you know.

According to Twitter’s biannual “transparency report,” the number of requests made by U.S. law enforcement officials for Twitter user data increased by about 20% between the first and second half of 2012, from 849 to 1,009. The majority of these requests -- 81% -- were made without a search warrant, and 60% consisted of subpoenas which don’t require a judge’s approval; typically these seek information about Twitter users which aren’t accessible to other users, like email addresses .Twitter complied with the law enforcement requests 69% of the time.

Meanwhile in its transparency report Google revealed that it received over 42,000 requests for user data from law enforcement in 2012, including 8,438 requests by the U.S. government in the second half of the year. That latter figure is up from 7,969 in the first half of the year, 6,321in the second half of 2011, and 5,950 in the first half of 2011. Google said it complied with 88% of the law enforcement requests it received in the second half of 2012 -- down from 90% in the first half of the year, and 93% in full year 2011.

In the past I’ve written about a number of initiatives by law enforcement organizations and intelligence agencies to monitor social media. In November Accenture Federal Services received a contract from the Department of Homeland Security to develop a “biosurveillance” system that will allow the Office of Health Affairs to monitor and react to national health emergencies via social media. Previously the DHS has admitted in a public statement that it creates profiles to monitor “publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards,” including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, in what is known as the “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative.”

In January of last year the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center released an RFI to determine the capability of industry to provide an “Open Source and social media alert, mapping, and analysis application solution.” Tshe system would be able to scrape material from social networks about emerging threats and then superimpose the information graphically on maps, giving FBI analysts a spatial sense of the threat landscape.

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