Twitter sees a 52 percent spike in government requests for user data

Saudi Arabia requested Twitter to hand over 93 wanted users’ data

Ismaeel Naar
Ismaeel Naar - Al Arabiya News
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Social networking site Twitter has revealed in its biannual transparency report that it coordinated with Saudi authorities in responding to requests to hand over data of 65 users who are suspected of illegal acts.

According to the published report, Saudi Arabia submitted a total of 93 account information requests to Twitter, 69 percent of which some account information were produced.

The report also revealed a 52 percent increase in emergency disclosure requests for data on wanted persons, and those deemed a security threat by authorities. It is the highest percentage increase since Twitter first started publishing their transparency reports in 2012.

Data reveals Twitter has been more prone to comply with Saudi Arabia on requests, compared to 52 percent by British security authorities which were able to acquire from Twitter.

The U.S. leads as the country with the most requests from Twitter after it asked for information on 2436 users where 80 percent of those were eventually disclosed by Twitter.

Emails sent by Al Arabiya News to Twitter’s public policy communications department were answered, but a company spokesman said their company would not comment on individual country data at the time.

They referred Al Arabiya News to a press release stating: “As has long been the trend, we continue to see a rise in the number of these [account information] requests. Notably, requests for account information have increased 52 percent, which is the largest increase between reporting periods we have ever seen, with removal requests and copyright notices growing by 26 percent and 11 percent respectively.”

While Twitter did not disclose specific reasons behind government requests for users’ data, security analysts have linked the rise of such actions with the emergence of ISIS and their use of social media in releasing its propaganda, as a recruitment tool and garnering financial support from sympathizers online.

“The rise of ISIS’ use of social media has prompted the proliferation of requests from the Saudis and Americans to try to find out who exactly are the individuals behind these accounts. Particularly as these accounts are being used to recruit new fighters,” Colin Clarke, political scientist at the RAND Corporation, whose research focuses on unconventional and asymmetric warfare, told Al Arabiya News.

Elsewhere in the Arab world, Kuwait asked for the disclosure of seven people, while the UAE made only two requests. Egypt, Qatar, Oman and Bahrain did not record any requests, according to the biannual report.

Analysts have also highlighted the need in the global fight against ISIS cyber abilities, to look beyond just Twitter and Facebook as technological advances are always on the rise.

Just last year, Al Arabiya News carried a report stating ISIS was using a new Twitter app called “Fajr al-Bashaer,” or “Dawn of Good Tidings.” The application, which was flagged by Twitter as “potentially harmful,” requested user data and personal information before sending news and updates on ISIS fighting in Syria and Iraq.

“One of the things is to look beyond Twitter and start looking at newer technologies in the future because Twitter isn’t going to be the top dog forever, and start looking at what’s the next social media platform that’s going to rise to prominence. And asking whether we can figure that out before ISIS does,” Clarke said.

Clarke added that governments requesting user information do not necessarily infringe on user privacy given ISIS technological abilities posing a bigger threat.

“It’s justifiable because it’s clear at this point that the U.S., the West and even some Middle Eastern governments have clearly underestimated ISIS in terms of its ability to recruit effectively thought social media. Where ISIS is unique compared to other [militant] groups is its ability to take advantage of social media to both terrorize its adversaries and similarly recruit new fighters into its ranks,” he said.

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