Twitter is suing the United States government, claiming its First Amendment rights are being violated. The case, filed Tuesday in the Northern District Court of California against both the Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, concerns the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) Twitter receives from the feds every year. These NSLs demand that Twitter hand over user information.
The gist of the case is that Twitter wants to include the exact number of requests it receives every year in its annual transparency reports. But right now, it is not allowed to. Thanks to the way current non-disclosure provisions are set up, Twitter is prohibited from sharing exactly how many NSLs it receives every year. Service providers like Twitter, Google, and Facebook can only provide a rough range or a percentage increase.
Twitter feels like that’s a violation of the First Amendment and a disservice to its users.
“We’ve tried to achieve the level of transparency our users deserve without litigation, but to no avail,” writes Twitter VP of legal Ben Lee in a blog post. “In April, we provided 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. After many months of discussions, we were unable to convince them to allow us to publish even a redacted version of the report.”
Transparency is and has always been important to Twitter, which has a history of resisting government requests. (According to Nick Bilton’s book Hatching Twitter, users can thank cofounder Biz Stone for that commitment.) While Twitter doesn’t receive nearly as many requests as, say, Google, the company is hoping its actions will help spur “comprehensive reform of government surveillance powers in the U.S.”