Twitter Inc. sued the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday,
intensifying its battle with federal agencies as the Internet industry's
self-described champion of free speech seeks the right to provide more
specifics about the extent of U.S. government surveillance.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court for Northern
California, Twitter argued that the current rules prevent it from even stating
that it has not received any national security requests for user information. Twitter
said the restrictions violate the Constitution's First Amendment guarantee of
Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships
with U.S. law enforcement and spying agencies in the wake of revelations by
former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that outlined the
depth of U.S. spying capabilities.
Twitter's lawsuit follows an agreement between Internet
companies like Google Inc and Microsoft Corp with the
government about court orders they receive related to surveillance.
The agreement freed the companies to disclose the number of
orders they received, but only in broad ranges. A company that offers email
services, for example, would be able to say it received between zero and 999
orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court during a six-month
period for email content belonging to someone outside the United States.
The Justice Department responded to the lawsuit with a
statement on how it has worked with other companies.
The American Civil Liberties Union praised Twitter's action,
saying in a statement that the company was doing the right thing by
"challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders." 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."
Twitter's lawsuit said the company has discussed the matter
with the government for several months. In a meeting with officials from the
DOJ and the FBI in January, Twitter argued that it should not be bound by the
disclosure limits that the government offered to Google and the other
Twitter submitted a draft transparency report with more
detailed data to the FBI in April, but the agency denied Twitter’s request to
publish the draft five months later.
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