As I have previously written, social media evidence is the new frontier of government investigations and criminal proceedings, and social media companies are increasingly targeted by government subpoenas and search warrants in such matters. As proof of this, one need look no further than the recent transparency reports published by Twitter and Google.
In both instances, the reports show the overwhelming majority of user data requests come via government subpoena; that is, on a standard of less than probable cause and typically without a court’s approval. For example, Twitter reported last week that 60% of all U.S. law enforcement requests came through a subpoena, while only 19% of such requests were received by search warrant, and only 11% of all requests received by court order. Google paints a strikingly similar picture, reporting last month that almost 70% of its U.S. law enforcement requests came via subpoena, whereas only 22% were issued through search warrants based on a demonstration of probable cause. Both Twitter and Google reported that the number of user data requests has steadily increased.
This data reflects increased internet and social media surveillance efforts by U.S. law enforcement, as well as law enforcement officers around the world. Moreover, it reveals a continued trend that U.S. law enforcement seeks user data by subpoena, requiring a much lower threshold than a search warrant, which requires probable cause, a judge’s signature, and comes with the constitutional protections of the Fourth Amendment.