Four months ago, Twitter sued the Justice Department for severely limiting the scope of information that companies could share on government data requests known as national security letters (NSLs) – and now, tech companies along with major media organizations are taking a stand to support Twitter's complaints.
On Tuesday, National Public Radio (NPR), The Washington Post, Guardian News & Media (the publisher of The Guardian), BuzzFeed, and PEN American Center filed a statement of amici interest (PDF) on the matter, offering their opinion as friends of the court interested in the “proper resolution” of the case, the document said. That day, in a separate brief of amici curiae (PDF) two unnamed corporations also filed their opinions on the Twitter case in a federal California court, challenging government gag orders that often forbid companies from notifying the public about NSLs.
The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which is representing the anonymous companies, announced Tuesday that the firms – a telecom and internet company – wish to share their identities as well as release the “details of their fights against NSLs.” But ongoing legal proceedings have made it necessary for the organizations to remain unidentified.
In court documents, the telecom company is described as a “provider of long distance and mobile phone services,” that filed its own challenge to an NSL from the FBI back in 2011. The unnamed internet company filed a similar petition in 2013 regarding two NSLs from the FBI “and the nondisclosure requirements imposed in connection therewith,” the documents said, referencing gag orders that companies (including Twitter) deem “unconstitutional” for violating First Amendment rights.
In the brief, the internet company and mobile service provider also requested that the Court deny the government's motion, filed in January, to dismiss the bulk of the Twitter lawsuit.
In January 2014, the Justice Department, in a letter, relaxed restrictions on disclosing government data request, after a number of companies complained, but later in the year blocked Twitter from releasing a transparency report because it said the report did not meet the newly established standards and contained classified information.
Privacy rights group EFF explained in its Tuesday release that highly secretive NSL demands, and many details surrounding them, are often kept confidential in the so-called interest of national security.
“The government continued to maintain that even identifying EFF's clients as having received an NSL might endanger national security,” EFF said.
On March 31, the next oral arguments in Twitter v. Eric Holder are scheduled to take place before District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers in Oakland, Calif.