Twitter fights to share more about government surveillance

After touching off a worldwide flurry of 140-character missives, Twitter has tried to establish a track record of protecting users’ free speech. Now, the company is fighting for its own right to open up.

Firing the latest shot in Silicon Valley’s revolt against dragnet government surveillance, Twitter sued the U.S. government Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, complaining that the Justice Department has rejected its pleas to share more about government surveillance in the Twittersphere. The San Francisco-based company argued that restrictions on what it can reveal about the government’s demands for information during national security-related investigations trample its right to free speech.

“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 said in a blog post accompanying the complaint. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

As the Mercury News’s Howard Mintz reported, Twitter is rebuffing a settlement Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn reached with the government earlier this year permitting them to share limited information in semi-annual “transparency reports.” Apple, for example, says on its website that it received 250 or fewer national security-related requests during the first half of this year.

Many valley companies have sought to distance themselves from the National Security Agency after former government contractor Edward Snowden’s revelations left some Americans concerned that the tech industry had not done enough to shield them from snooping. Twitter warned earlier this year that it might sue over its inability to disclose more information about government demands for information.

After Twitter filed suit, civil liberties advocates were quick to cheer the move and urge other players in the valley to follow suit.

“Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders,” Jameel Jaffer, the American Civil Liberties Union’s deputy legal director, said in a statement. “We hope that other technology companies will now follow Twitter’s lead. Technology companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ sensitive information against overbroad government surveillance, and to be candid with their customers about how their information is being used and shared.”

Twitter has been lauded in the past for its unsuccessful fight against a court order for information about an Occupy Wall Street protester. The company also lashed out against a gag order that forbid it from sharing a subpoena for information about an Iceland parliament member linked to WikiLeaks.

Twitter is fighting to disclose more about the government surveillance its users are subjected to. (FRED TANNEAU/AFP/Getty Images)



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