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Supreme Court rejects decade-old Twitter First Amendment case

Supreme Court rejects decade-old Twitter First Amendment case

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The case was filed during the uproar over government surveillance in 2014, as Twitter demanded more transparency options for data requests.

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An image showing the former Twitter logo with the X logo on its head
Illustration: The Verge

The Supreme Court has declined a long-running legal challenge from X Corp., formerly Twitter, over whether it can publicly reveal US government demands for user data. X Corp. v. Garland was on a list of denied petitions released this morning. That leaves X with a March 2023 ruling that the First Amendment doesn’t protect Twitter from limits on reporting national security demands — a ruling civil liberties organizations say sets a disappointingly low bar for censorship.

Twitter filed its original suit in 2014, the year after whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed details of extensive secret US telecoms surveillance. In the wake of those disclosures, social networks won the option to report how many demands agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation had made, but — thanks to government nondisclosure requirements — only in extraordinarily broad ranges. Twitter sought to publish the exact number of requests it received within a six-month period, arguing that redactions demanded by the FBI overstepped the First Amendment.

Courts have largely disagreed. In March, a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals panel concluded that “Twitter has a First Amendment interest in commenting on matters of public concern involving national security subpoenas,” but its request “would risk making foreign adversaries aware of what is being surveilled and what is not being surveilled.” The American Civil Liberties Union called the decision “disappointing and dangerous,” arguing that “not only did the panel’s decision conflict with decades of Supreme Court precedent, but its reasoning could enable broad restrictions on speech concerning our interactions with the government.” The company, at that point owned by billionaire Elon Musk, similarly argued to the Supreme Court that this would “substantially erode” previous First Amendment precedents.

Pre-Musk Twitter filed a number of legal complaints worldwide around government demands for takedowns and surveillance, and the Supreme Court has ruled on at least one: Twitter v. Taamneh, where it found the social network hadn’t aided and abetted terrorists by failing to ban their accounts. As X, it’s become embroiled in a fight against state-level internet regulation, though it’s also filed suit to legally suppress criticism of the platform. Meanwhile, Congress recently pushed back a fight over reauthorizing key portions of the US surveillance apparatus — leaving a heated debate for later this year.