Compliance Management, Privacy, Threat Management

Twitter sues U.S. government over sharing limits on transparency report data

Twitter has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the U.S. government over what it believes to be a violation of its First Amendment rights.

The social media giant alleges that the limitations the Justice Department imposed on its ability to publicly share a more detailed “scope” of information with its users regarding government data requests curb the company's speech and thereby violate its rights.

“It's our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users' concerns and to the statements of the 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,” Ben Lee, vice president of legal at Twitter wrote in a blog post.“We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

Earlier this year Jeremy Kessel, manager for Global Legal Policy at Twitter, expressed the company's concerns over its limitations regarding the same issue, since it was only able to share “overly broad” ranges with its users.

Following President Obama's call for greater transparency, the Department of Justice allowed major tech firms to disclose the total number of Freedom of Information Act court orders they received on an annual basis, in addition to the total number of users affected by those requests.

According to the rules implemented by the DOJ in regards to the sharing of the information, companies could go with two options – one allows for a more generalized aggregate reporting in bands of 250 requests, while the other allows for disclosing a greater breakdown of information in bands of a thousand.

Twitter previously tried to submit in April what it believed was a suitable draft transparency report for its users to the DOJ and FBI for approval. However, the company and the two agencies could not reach an agreeable conclusion regarding the scope of the report -- with the Justice Department eventually refusing to let Twitter release even a redacted version of that report. 

Instead, in July the company released a report that complied with the DOJ's original guidance. According to the Washington Post, the FBI informed Twitter's attorney in September that the more detailed report that the company wanted to reveal contained what it considered classified information. 

It seems as if the social media company's displeasure has reached a boiling point and it has taken the legal action threatened in February.

“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,” Lee said.

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