New York State Governments Are One of the Most Frequent Requesters of Twitter Account Information in the World


Last week, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office subpoenaed Twitter, Inc. for any information the company might have pertaining to the identity of @bicyclelobby, a parody account created last year as a response to the ravings of Wall Street Journal editorial board member Dorothy Rabinowitz. The fact that two German artists claimed responsibility for the flags on Tuesday–and they have the video to back them up–only further confirms how absurd this request was.

Since its first tweet, issued shortly after a Twitter blackout, @bicyclelobby has satirically credit for a variety of sinister and improbable things. And, of course, it’s funny because its rooted in real resentment about the (pitifully little) power cyclists wield relative to cars in New York City.

So when those mysterious white flags appeared on the Brooklyn Bridge, @bicyclelobby‘s response was true to form. “Earlier today we hoisted two white flags to signal our complete surrender of the Brooklyn Bridge bicycle path to pedestrians,” it tweeted.

And a few of news outlets, in their haste to have answers about the flags when details were still scarce, earnestly reported that @bicyclelobby had confessed. First it was the Daily News, then the Associated Press.

It was hilarious until–or: hilarious, and even more so when–the Manhattan DA’s office revealed their utter lack of humor by subpoenaing Twitter for @bicyclelobby‘s information last week.

The subpoena itself, which it’s Twitter’s policy to share with users whose information is targeted, was uploaded to Scribd by All Powerful Bicycle Lobby.

The DA’s request is a part of a bigger, growing trend. The number of requests Twitter has received from governments around the world has increased 142% since the company began keeping track in 2012. In the first six months of that year, they received 849 requests. In the last six months of 2014 (January to June), Twitter received 2,058 requests.

Most of those requests–1257 requests for information on 1,918 accounts–originated in the United States. Among those, governments in New York state submitted 123 requests in last six months alone. (Only California requested more, with 163.)

If New York were its own country it would still come in fourth on a list of the top five most frequent requesters, just behind Saudi Arabia and Japan and, I guess, California if in this scenario it was also its own country.

Subpoenas seeking the email address associated with an account and any IP logs make up more than half the requests Twitter fields from U.S. governments in any given six month period; court orders, search warrants and emergency disclosure requests make up the remainder.

We asked a Twitter spokesman if the company would be cooperating with the subpoena. He wouldn’t say, but he did point us to one instance in which Twitter has gone to the mat to protect user privacy from the Manhattan DA in the past.

In 2012, Twitter took the District Attorney to court over his demand that the company turn over information belonging to Occupy Wall Street protestor Malcolm Harris, who was charged with disorderly conduct relating to a demonstration on the Brooklyn Bridge.

That story didn’t really have a happy ending though: Twitter was ultimately forced to turn over Harris’ information, after the court threatened to hold the company in civil and criminal contempt.