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Twitter has been complaining to the government for months about restrictions on the way the microblog can report national security-related data requests it receives. But the back and forth between Twitter and government wasn’t progressing to Twitter’s liking. Now the San Francisco-based company has filed suit.

Twitter says the government is violating its First Amendment right to free speech by limiting the specificity with which it may report the scope and scale of the data requests. Twitter reports the government’s requests twice a year in its Transparency Reports to users.

Tech companies have been under pressure to reassure customers that they aren’t eager to hand over user data to the government and to be more transparent in cases where it had to. But the government is placing limits on their ability to do so, in the name of national security.

“It’s our belief that we are entitled under the 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,” Twitter VP Ben Lee said in a statement. “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”


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In Twitter’s case, most tweets are already public, so Twitter would like to make clear to users that the risk of divulging sensitive information to the government is already limited. It would also like to report the exact number of requests it receives, which is markedly lower that email providers, for example.

The American Civil Liberties Union chimed in on the case, too: “Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders,” legal director Jameel Jaffer said in a statement Tuesday. “We hope that other technology companies will now follow Twitter’s lead. Technology companies have an obligation to protect their customers’ sensitive information against overbroad government surveillance and to be candid with their customers about how their information is being used and shared.”

Government officials have said, however, that the FBI and National Security Agency are seeking to defend the country from real security threats, and the more that the world knows about their sources and methods, the greater the risk of losing capabilities.

Officials have also pointed to efforts to be more transparent, including their release of thousands of pages of redacted court and government documents pertaining to NSA surveillance programs. In the Jan. 27 agreement reached with other tech companies, officials say privately, the Justice Department tried to find a reasonable middle ground that allowed a greater level of disclosure while shielding the government’s ability to protect national security.

Twitter’s lawsuit was filed in the Northern District of California on Tuesday.

Via: Washington Post

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