Twitter takes the U.S. government to court over FISA

Twitter has long been unhappy about government policy regarding national security disclosures

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 7, 2014
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/3999

Twitter has long made its displeasure known when it comes to the U.S. government's stance on national security requests. The company has even tried to negotiate over what it can, and cannot, release but to no avail. The government simply does not want people to know how many of these requests it makes. 

So now Twitter is taking some very bold action in order to get the policy to change, announcing on Tuesday that it has filed a federal lawsuit against the United States government in order to allow the company to be truly transparent when it comes to government requests.

Ever since the PRISM scandal broke last year, and distrust over the relationship between technology companies and the government has become more and more widespread, transparency reports have become the way for them to be more open with the public. But issues with national security letters (“NSLs”) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) court orders remained.

Companies, including Facebook, Microsoft and Google, made public declarations that they wanted to release this data, and they were being hung out to dry, given that they had no way to convince their users that they were not simply in the government's pocket. A deal was finally struck between the Department of Justice and major tech companies back in January, which allowed them to reveal that requests were made, but only to provide a broad range. For example, they can give a range of between 000 and 999, which is so wide that it basically tells users nothing.

For Twitter, giving out this type of information is simply not good enough, though, especially since it cannot even tell its users if no data requests were received. To give its users real transparency, the company says that it has to be able to provide actual numbers on what the government is doing.

"Our ability to speak has been restricted by laws that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider like us from disclosing the exact number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”) court orders received — even if that number is zero," Brian Lee, VP of Legal at Twitter, wrote in a blog post.

"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. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges."

Twitter outlined some of the ways that it attempted to avoidi taking this type of action, including providing a draft Transparency Report addendum to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, "a report which we hoped would provide meaningful transparency for our users."

The government would not even let Twitter publish a redacted version of the report. And so now it has come to this.

"This is an important issue for anyone who believes in a strong First Amendment, and we hope to be able to share our complete Transparency Report," said Lee. 

You can read the filing that Twitter made with the U.S. District Court of Northern California here.

(Image source: mysticpolitics.com)

Related companies, investors and entrepreneurs

Description: What is Twitter? Twitter is an online information network that allows anyone with an account to post 140 character messages, called tweet...

Related news