Twitter dissatisfied with what it’s allowed to say about U.S. data requests, may sue

[Updated below with clarification]

Twitter has gotten kudos for fighting the U.S. government on behalf of its users over free-speech issues. Today, it appears that it may be gearing up for another legal battle. It says the recent government decision to allow companies to disclose the number of national security requests they receive is not enough, and that it may sue.

In a blog post announcing its latest transparency report — which discloses numbers of government requests for user information and takedown requests around the world — Twitter said it is “considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.” The San Francisco-based company says being unable to disclose more information about U.S. national security requests and FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court orders in a narrower context is meaningless and “violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs.”

After the Edward Snowden leaks that revealed massive NSA spying that includes the collection of Internet users’ information, tech companies including Google and Yahoo sued the government in a push to allow them to disclose the number of national security requests they receive. Last week, the government relented, but as Brandon Bailey wrote, an Electronic Frontier Foundation lawyer called it a “very small step.”

Twitter agrees, calling it “a step in the right direction” but pointing out that letting the companies disclose numbers in “broad ranges … do not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public, especially for entities that do not receive a significant number of – or any – national security requests.” For example, it wants to be able to publish information on secret government requests separately from other types of requests.

The Next Web rounded up the numbers released by tech companies after last week’s decision. The companies can only report the requests in groups of a thousand. For example, Yahoo reported that in the first six months of 2013, it received 0-999 FISA requests. So did Facebook. So you can see where Twitter’s coming from when it says the numbers don’t really do much good.

Twitter’s frankness is in line with its track record. We’ve written that Twitter fought a court order to turn over information about an Occupy Wall Street protester a couple of years ago. In 2011, the company also fought a gag order preventing it from disclosing a secret subpoena for information about an Iceland parliament member with ties to whistleblower website WikiLeaks. Although Twitter eventually had to give up the information in both instances, it won praise for its efforts.

Clarification: This post previously referred to national security requests as national security letters. Companies were allowed to disclose national security letters last year, but they were not allowed to disclose other types of national security requests separately.


Photo of Twitter sign from AFP/Getty Images archives


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  • Craig Anderson

    There was so much outrage under the Bush administration about the failure to find WMDs in Iran. Where is the outrage over the constant violation of the 4th (and 1st and 2nd) amendment rights under this bogus Kenyan born POTUS’ administration.

    Obama = Worst president in the 20th / 21st century – he should be tried for treason

  • alrui

    Twitter (& others) can say whatever they like if they have the wavos to do so! EVERYONE needs to be showing outrage with this tyrannical government, all of this talk of “terrorists” is BS as its our own government who is the terrorist! Fight back people, its time for a revolution!