Twitter Sues U.S. Government for the Right to Tell Users About Surveillance

The latest tech giant to take on Uncle Sam

Twitter is suing the U.S. government for allegedly violating its First Amendment rights by restricting what the site can tell its users about national security requests from intelligence agencies, reports The Washington Post.

The suit was filed yesterday in the U.S. District Court in Northern California. The San Francisco company is the latest tech giant to challenge the feds for allegedly stifling what it can tell its users about secret government surveillance.

In January, Twitter attempted to settle out of court after Google, Yahoo, Microsoft, LinkedIn and Facebook reached an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department about what they could publicly disclose. But Twitter’s Transparency Report, which details information requests, was considered a breach of national security and set the current lawsuit in motion.

In a blog post, Twitter vp of legal Ben Lee said: "Our ability to speak has been restricted by laws that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider like us from disclosing the exact number of national security letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court orders received—even if that number is zero."

Twitter wants to let its users know the exact scope of government surveillance requests, and its lawsuit argues that its Transparency Reports are hobbled by unconstitutional barriers. 

Since the microblogging site is largely public, it has not received a large number of government data requests, reports the Post. But Lee said that's not stopping him from pushing for "comprehensive reform of government surveillance."

The U.S. Justice Department is reviewing the Twitter complaint. It "worked collaboratively" with the five other tech companies to reach a settlement about how much information they can disclose to customers, a spokeswoman said. But Twitter wants to go further.

Twitter joins Yahoo in challenging the feds. Last month, Yahoo won a seven-year battle to declassify federal court documents that revealed the government planned to fine Yahoo $250,000 a day unless it complied with data requests.