Home Twitter Hits Feds With A Lawsuit Over Surveillance Requests

Twitter Hits Feds With A Lawsuit Over Surveillance Requests

Twitter filed suit against the U.S. government, seeking to overturn restrictions that prevent it from fully reporting on federal surveillance requests.

The social media company said back in February that it would take legal action if the government failed to allow Twitter to be fully transparent with users, and it followed through on that promise by filing a lawsuit to publish the company’s full Transparency Report.

Twitter and other technology companies aren’t allowed to share the exact number of national-security requests for data—national security letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders—they receive. Even if the number is zero.

See also: Twitter To Feds: Your User-Data Requests Need Way More Sunlight

In January, a group of tech companies including Facebook and Google reached an agreement with the government to share the number of requests for data in broad ranges and without differentiating between NSLs and FISA orders.

At the time, Twitter said it believed that was a step in the right direction, but not enough. 

In the months that followed, Twitter tried to work with the U.S. Department of Justice and the FBI to provide a more transparent data request report, but the government didn’t allow the company to publish it, even in redacted form.

“We’ve tried to achieve the level of transparency our users deserve without litigation, but to no avail,” Ben Lee, Twitter’s vice president of legal, wrote in a blog post announcing the lawsuit. 

Twitter argues that the government’s restrictions on publishing such data are unconstitutional. From its lawsuit:

These restrictions constitute an unconstitutional prior restraint and content-based restriction on, and government viewpoint discrimination against, Twitter’s right to speak about information of national and global public concern. Twitter is entitled under the First Amendment to respond to its users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing more complete information about the limited scope of U.S. government surveillance of Twitter user accounts—including what types of legal process have not been received by Twitter—and the DAG Letter is not a lawful means by which Defendants can seek to enforce their unconstitutional speech restrictions.

Yahoo lost a similar lawsuit when it refused to comply to broad government requests for user data in 2007-2008. The company lost the suit, but recently published a number of previously unreleased documents related to the case.

Lead image by Anthony Quintano

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