Twitter is suing the FBI and the US Department of Justice to allow it to disclose more about its demands for user data, saying that its free speech rights are being violated by restrictions.
In a lawsuit filed in California, Twitter argued that the current rules prevent it from even stating that it has not received any national security requests for user information.
“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the (US constitution’s) First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of US government officials by providing information about the scope of US government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received,” said Twitter’s vice president Benjamin Lee.
Lee said the FBI and Department of Justice had refused Twitter to publish any specific numbers on data requests other than the broad ranges agreed upon with several other firms. Earlier this year, five major companies – Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn – reached a settlement that allowed them to disclose some level of information in bi-annual “transparency reports,” but Twitter argued that such limits are unconstitutional.
|Listening Post – Journalism in the age of surveillance|
The US government has been able to access phone networks and high-speed internet traffic for years to catch suspected and criminals.
The FBI has also started pushing technology companies like Google, Skype and others to guarantee access to their data streams and grab emails, video chats, pictures and more. The technology companies say they turn over information only if required by court order, and in the interest of transparency with their customers, want to share information about the government’s activities.
The Justice Department responded to the lawsuit: “Earlier this year, the government addressed similar concerns raised in a lawsuit brought by several major tech companies,” Department of Justice spokeswoman Emily Pierce said. “There, the parties worked collaboratively to allow tech companies to provide broad information on government requests while also protecting national security.”
Twitter, which allows its 271 million monthly users to send 140-character text messages, has traditionally taken an aggressive posture challenging government censorship requests and has previously described itself as “the free-speech wing of the free-speech party”.