Under various surveillance laws, the US government asks social media sites like Facebook, Youtube, Twitter, etc. to provide them with information regarding people’s identities and communications. Because the government does not want the public to know the exact nature of these requests, for fear that criminals would find out that they were under scrutiny and try to hide their trail, the exact nature of these requests cannot be revealed by the websites.
Instead, sites are only allowed to reveal the an approximate number, within a large range, of how many and what type of requests they have received. For example, companies could only specify that they received between 0 and 999 information requests, or between 1000 and 1999, and so on. Twitter requested permission to be more accurate in their reporting of these requests, but were told that such information was classified and that they could not reveal it.
In response, Twitter has filed suit against the government claiming that its First Amendment rights are being curtailed. Twitter’s claims include that these rules have forced it to either “engage in speech that has been preapproved by the government or else refrain from speaking altogether” and that “these restrictions constitute a an unconstitutional prior restraint, content-based restriction, and government viewpoint discrimination against Twitter’s right to speak about information of national and global public concern.
This lawsuit comes in the aftermath of similar suits by Microsoft, Google, and other tech giants, which won the companies permission to release the broad based information in the first place. The lawsuit also comes in the wake of a court decision banning “National Security Letters” which are a demand for information combined with a gag order forbidding the company from talking about them.
This suit is yet another in a long line of anti-surveillance suits, and it’s tough to say which way the courts will rule on this one, but it’s sure to be a long drawn out battle. For those wanting more information, you can check out the full text of the suit here.