Twitter is making a First Amendment argument over transparency
Twitter is suing the U.S. Justice Department to disclose more information about the types of data the government seeks about Twitter users. Twitter, which has acted as a staunch free speech advocate in the past, wants to publish more detailed information in its biannual transparency report information about how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders and National Security Letters (NSLs) it receives from the government.
FISA orders and NSLs allow the government to secretly gather communications data on what it says are national security threats. Recipients of such requests cannot legally disclose that they have received them. However, following revelations about government surveillance from former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden, the U.S. government reached an agreement with several tech giants to allow them to publish information about how many sensitive data requests they received, but only in very broad ranges. In one variant of the stipulations, for example, companies can only disclose that they received between 0 and 999 FISA court requests for data about Twitter’s users.
Twitter — not one of the companies that reached the settlement with the government — wants to be more specific about how many data requests it receives, which it believes it has the constitutional right to do.
“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received,” the company wrote in a blog post. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”
Unlike other tech companies like Google, Twitter does not specifically break out the number of FISA court requests it receives in its transparency reports. Overal, Twitter receives less government requests for user data than larger Internet companies like Google and Facebook.
The case was filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court of Northern California.