22 April 2019
Twitter is seeking the right to reveal the extent of US government surveillance. Photo: Reuters
Twitter is seeking the right to reveal the extent of US government surveillance. Photo: Reuters

Twitter sues US govt over surveillance requests

Twitter Inc. sued the US 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 reveal the extent of government surveillance, Reuters reported.

The lawsuit, which Twitter said follows months of fruitless negotiations with the government, marks an escalation in the Internet industry’s battle over gag orders on the nature and number of requests for private user information.

In the lawsuit, Twitter said that current rules prevent it from even stating that it has not received any national security requests for user information.

The messaging service said such restrictions violate the Constitution’s First Amendment guarantee of free speech.

“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,” Twitter said in a blogpost.

Tech companies have sought to clarify their relationships with law enforcement and spying agencies in the wake of revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden that outlined the depth of US 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.

In a separate case, a federal appeals court in San Francisco on Wednesday will hear arguments on whether the FBI can gag recipients of national security letters. A lower court judge had ruled those secrecy guidelines unconstitutional.

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