Twitter Says DOJ's Settlement On National Security Requests Not Good Enough; It Will Fight For The Right To Disclose

from the good-for-twitter dept

We've pointed out in the past that Twitter deserves kudos for standing up to the government when it asks for info on users, something it has done multiple times. And now it's making it clear that it intends to keep doing that.

We pointed out last week that the feds had reached a settlement with a bunch of tech companies that had sued the government on First Amendment grounds over their ability to release details of numbers of FISA requests and National Security Letters they had received. Twitter was not a part of that lawsuit, and while it has released its own transparency report, it has also come out strongly for more transparency, saying that the settlement deal is not nearly good enough and that it is pushing back on the government's limitations and considering picking up the First Amendment fight that Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Linkedin dropped.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Justice and various communications providers reached an agreement allowing disclosure of national security requests in very large ranges. While this agreement is a step in the right direction, these ranges do not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public, especially for entities that do not receive a significant number of – or any – national security requests.

As previously noted, we think it is essential for companies to be able to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds – including national security letters and different types of FISA court orders – separately from reporting on all other requests. For the disclosure of national security requests to be meaningful to our users, it must be within a range that provides sufficient precision to be meaningful. Allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency. In addition, we also want the freedom to disclose that we do not receive certain types of requests, if, in fact, we have not received any.

Unfortunately, we are currently prohibited from providing this level of transparency. We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs. We believe there are far less restrictive ways to permit discussion in this area while also respecting national security concerns. Therefore, we have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users. We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.

Obviously, Twitter is used more for public communications than private communications, so it's likely that it receives less attention on these issues, but it's great to see the company continue its strong history of standing up for its users' right to basic due process, and being quite explicit about its stance. Once again, Twitter deserves kudos where other companies have fallen short.

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  1. identicon
    Just Sayin', 6 Feb 2014 @ 8:55pm

    arm waving for attention, not freedom of anything else

    I hate to say, but Twitter's actions seem mostly to be arm waving to get attention (and considering their financial issues, perhaps also to get investors to stop looking at their poor results recently reported.

    Most twitter users are public or semi-public, very little is done that is completely private. The level of disclosure that the government has permitted is pretty significant, allowing companies to disclose in pretty clear terms what is going on, without revealing anything that can be specifically linked to anyone or tip off anyone as to their actual direct actions.

    Twitter needs to worry less about improving transparency by a smidgen, and much more about turning their business into a true ongoing and self-supporting situation, lest they become the next MySpace.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    fortiori, 6 Feb 2014 @ 9:53pm


    Going to sad to watch this story do a slow 180 once the pressure mounts and leverage is applied.

    Me, jaded? What gives you that idea?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    sonicSkis (profile), 7 Feb 2014 @ 12:27am

    Twitter should just release the numbers

    Why don't they just release the numbers? What is the government really going to do? Put the CEO in jail? The CEO of one of the largest social media sites in the world, that has 190 million unique monthly viewers? It's scary how far the government will go, but I think what we need is for these battles to be fought out in court. Right now, the Justice department has people right where they want them - afraid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2014 @ 2:17am

    Re: Twitter should just release the numbers

    Yes they should release the numbers.

    As for the battle, the fighting has to begin within REALITY, not the metaficional realm of the theater they call "rule of law".

    To begin the fight, the info they should release is a graph of "accounts accessed over time". Since the data sets returned to the officials in responses to their demands will be : copied, kept, accessed at-will and never destroyed, it's only fair that the public at least knows how many more accounts have been compromised every day.

    What are those "rules" and "oversight" you keep blathering on about? The cops/spies are doing what they can and nobody cares for rules. We KNOW the oversight is a joke that doesn't enforce any rule, so it's blindingly obvious that what really happens is that the data is used in every way everyone (who can get away with accessing it) can imagine.

    Ed Snowden just published it, but we as a species can safely assume that bright young white men with access to tech will enthusiasthically go 0wn every last piece of tech they can get to connect to, and copy all of the data they might get into their brains (or external storage). This FACT has been historically KNOWN for over a CENTURY. That is the ONE reason phone operators have been exclusively female after the telcos observed, horrified, what happens when you put anonymous young bright white males in contact with tech.

    tl;dr : disregard the "law" and publish the numbers already, it's not like as if the other side had rules.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2014 @ 2:34am

    Obviously, Twitter is used more for public communications than private communications

    It is also used by people the government wish to identify, such as 'occupy' and other protesters. Twitter could be hit with some very broad orders, like account details and all tweets of anybody who posted with a given hash tag.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Ninja (profile), 7 Feb 2014 @ 5:53am

    Regardless of how small or how little private communications are on Twitter it can set good precedents for bigger companies. Still, the fact that the big ones are putting a half-assed fight (some aren't even trying) one has to wonder if it'll be any good...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2014 @ 7:05am

    Sellouts like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo and Linkedin, Should be taking notes (and not treasury notes).

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 7 Feb 2014 @ 11:33am

    I hope when Twitter says, "our first amendment right". They're talking about their rights as individual employees of the company, not that the company as an entity, has a first amendment right.

    CEO's of a company have a first amendment right as an individual, but the company itself can't.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    btrussell (profile), 7 Feb 2014 @ 11:14pm

    Re: Re: Twitter should just release the numbers

    Are you saying only white men abuse power or that non-whites aren't smart enough?

    Since we are handing out historical facts: Most AC's on the net have no balls.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Feb 2014 @ 6:08pm

    counter-arguments are..

    What's the reason given by your gov for needing that gag on exact counts (their nat sec requests into each dot com) ?

    What reasoning was given when your gov signed that into Law ?

    Surely they've stated something beyond "because terroroism" and "because patriot act s215 let's us".

    What are we at TD actually arguing against here??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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