Twitter Is Suing The U.S. Government

Ben Lee, vice president of Twitter's legal department, took to the Twitter blog on Tuesday to reveal that the company is suing the U.S. Government (pdf) in the U.S. District Court of Northern California. The news follows the company's transparency report released back in July, which did not reveal the real size of the U.S. government's surveillance of Twitter users.

"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," Lee said.

According to the complaint, the government "engages in extensive but incomplete speech" regarding the actual size of its activities as they pertain to communications providers in the United States. Meanwhile, service providers like Twitter are not allowed to provide their own "informed perspective as potential recipients of various national security-related requests."

The lawsuit seems centered around a draft Transparency Report that was submitted to the government around April 1, 2014. Five months after the submittal, the government said that the document contained classified information that cannot be publicly released. Why? Because releasing this information does not comply with the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA).

The complaint filed in the California court alleges that the government forces Twitter to engage in preapproved speech or forces the social network to refrain from speaking altogether. The complaint also states that discussions of the actual surveillance on Twitter is being "unconstitutionally restricted."

"In fact, the U.S. government has taken the position that service providers like Twitter are even prohibited from saying that they have received zero national security requests, or zero of a particular type of national security request," the complaint said.

Lee said that Twitter has been in negotiations with the government to be more transparent, but so far those attempts have failed. "After many months of discussions, we were unable to convince them to allow us to publish even a redacted version of the report," he wrote, referring to the April document.

Should all service providers have the right of full disclosure in their Transparency Reports? Is there a violation of the First Amendment here? Is the government right in forcing service providers to withhold certain information? Lee commented that this is an important issue for anyone who believes in a strong First Amendment.

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  • ethanolson
    Twitter 1 - Obama's America 0
  • bentonsl_2010
    Twitter 1 - Obama's America 0

    Except the FISA ammendment to allow this was signed into law during the bush years.......

  • coolitic
    I'm sure they weren't dumb enough to think this wasn't going to happen, were they?
  • eodeo
    Reducing spying/evilness (basically the same thing) is always good. Governments should spy it's own rear end if they need entertainment.
  • f-14
    "....FISA Amendments Act for five years (until December 31, 2017) which renews the U.S. government's authority to monitor electronic communications of foreigners abroad."

    as an american i don't care because this applies to A) foreigners B) abroad aka outside america. once you leave american borders and your a foreigner, it's fair game. i don't care where the tweets are made once they are outside of the united states, fair game unless you are an american. the constitution is the establishment of and rules against the government, not against we the people, not against businesses.
  • sykozis
    Congress has been trampling on the constitution since 9-11-2001. Anyone else remember the illegal wire tapping done by the Gov't? The Gov't saw the attack on the World Trade Center as an opportunity to start taking rights away in the name of "National Security"..... And no, I'm not a conspiracy theorist.....
  • kunthakenthe
    I know people dont like the Nsa but i dont want "potentionally harmful" info about the usa out in the open for cyber attacks and such.
  • thomaseron
    This would probably never happen in Sweden.
    I'm on Twitter's side, though. :)
  • spellbinder2050
    They say that they need all of this excessive surveillance to catch the terrorists, but even on 9/11 the FBI suspected an imminent attack and were already watching the 9/11 hijackers. Not only that, several government agencies were warned of an impending attack.

    The system seemed to be working just fine. It was the government that wasn't.
  • dovah-chan
    That's the problem with PRISM and other programs like that. It can't predict attacks but it can pinpoint where and how and what happened after the attack occurs. I think it's just an excuse to do less police work and save more money by having less employees (but the amount of cash they're dumping into these projects negate that notion anyway).

    Who is the NSA to say that they are doing the right thing by spying on all of us anyways? Even if there are people in the NSA who believe they are doing the right thing, there are always going to be people who are willing to take advantage and exploit this system.

    I feel bad for Twitter stepping up to the government like this. Apparently back in '08, Yahoo denied the government access to user data. In response to this, the government said that they will fine them $200,000 a day and the amount will double each week. That is pretty much a corporate death sentence and Yahoo backed down and caved in I believe but have only now just been allowed to talk about it.

    To succinctly sum up what is going on; the US government is a bunch of bullies who feel that they have some self appointed duty to 'protect their country' by spying on humanity and someone is calling them out on it.