Twitter has filed a lawsuit against the US government, alleging that its First Amendment rights to free speech are being violated by rules that prevent it from disclosing the quantity of national security requests it receives. Twitter is currently able to publish the number of national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders it receives in extremely broad ranges — such as between "0 and 999" — and it argues that this is not narrow enough. It also argues that it should be able to inform the public of what orders it has not received, whereas currently zero falls within that enormous range.
"We should be free to do this in a meaningful way."
"When the government intrudes on speech, the First Amendment requires that it do so in the most limited way possible," Twitter writes in a court filing. "The government has failed to meet this obligation."
Ever since the PRISM documents began leaking in 2013, tech companies have been pressing the government for permission to publicly publish more information about how much information they've had to hand over. That pressure culminated in a deal earlier this year that allowed the publication of NSLs and FISA orders, so long as they were in those huge ranges. However, that deal was reached by the government and Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, and Yahoo — not Twitter. Though the rule applies to Twitter, Twitter isn't happy with it and is now by and large looking to have it invalidated along with other rules that prevent national security request figures from being published.
"It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of 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, a lawyer with Twitter, writes in a blog post. "We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges." Twitter has already drawn up a more detailed transparency report and says that it hopes this lawsuit will allow it to publish the "full" version of this document in the future.