Twitter Reveals Two National Security Letters After Gag Orders Lifted; Rightly Complains About Gag Orders

from the first-amendment? dept

In the last few months, we've seen multiple internet companies finally able to reveal National Security Letters (NSLs) they had received from the Justice Department, demanding information from the companies, while simultaneously saddling those companies with gag orders, forbidding them to speak about the orders. It started last June, when Yahoo was the first company to publicly acknowledge such an NSL. In December, Google revealed 8 NSLs around the same time that the Internet Archive was able to reveal it had received an NSL as well. Earlier this month, Cloudflare was finally able to reveal the NSL it had received (which a Senate staffer had told the company was impossible -- and the company's top lawyer was bound by the gag order, unable to correct that staffer).

And now we can add Twitter to the list. On Friday, the company announced that the gag order on two NSLs had been lifted. There's one from 2015 and another from June of last year. Twitter appears relieved that it's finally able to reveal these, but quite frustrated that it was gagged at all.

If you don't recall, Twitter has been much more aggressive than basically all of the other tech companies in challenging these gag orders. Back in 2014, Twitter sued the government, claiming it was a First Amendment violation to enforce these gag orders. That was after most of the other major internet companies had come to an agreement over how and when they could report such requests. Twitter, thankfully, felt that the agreement between the DOJ and internet companies was way too stifling and has fought it:

Twitter remains unsatisfied with restrictions on our right to speak more freely about national security requests we may receive. We continue to push for the legal ability to speak more openly on this topic in our lawsuit against the U.S. government, Twitter v. Lynch.

We continue to believe that reporting in government-mandated bands does not provide meaningful transparency to the public or those using our service. However, the government argues that any numerical reporting more detailed than the bands in the USA Freedom Act would be classified and as such not protected by the First Amendment. They further argue that Twitter is not entitled to obtain information from the government about the processes followed in classifying a version Twitter’s 2013 Transparency Report or in classifying/declassifying decisions associated with the allowed bands. We would like a meaningful opportunity to challenge government restrictions when “classification” prevents speech on issues of public importance.

Our next hearing in the Lynch case is scheduled for February 14, 2017. Concurrently, Twitter is using the statutory means provided in the USA Freedom Act to seek more transparency into similar NSL requests, and will provide updates as they become available.

That last paragraph makes it fairly clear (though it should have been obvious) that Twitter is still gagged on more NSLs. And that's kind of a key thing in all of these recent "releases" of NSLs. They're only released when the government lifts the gag orders on them -- and that's very troubling. There is a long history in this country of the government abusing its powers to spy on the public. If it alone gets to decide when to reveal the nature of its surveillance efforts, then the public really has no insight or understanding into just how widespread the practice might be.

And the most ridiculous thing in all of this is that it's hard to fathom any actual justification for this kind of thing. Yes, you can understand not necessarily revealing an ongoing investigation into a crime, but the gag orders go much further, barring companies from even admitting how many NSLs they receive. It's hard to see how revealing that kind of information -- in any way -- compromises law enforcement or intelligence investigations. The only thing it serves to do is to hide from the public the scale of the surveillance.


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2017 @ 8:34pm

    Yes, you can understand not necessarily revealing an ongoing investigation into a crime

    I can understand, but enforcing such a restriction would abridge the freedom of speech and of the press.

    It's hard to see how revealing that kind of information -- in any way -- compromises law enforcement or intelligence investigations.

    I don't see any exception in the First Amendment for speech that would be inconvenient or even harmful.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 27 Jan 2017 @ 9:08pm

      Re:

      Sadly the First Amendment has had a large body of legal special pleading attached for a long time as the minds of the day always refuse to consider it applied in a strong and untethered form - considering it too 'dangerous' or 'wrong'. Instead the cognitive dissonance leads to the mental gymnastics Olympics to justify away freedom.

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

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2017 @ 2:32am

    You may have a right in theroy

    but in practice, more often, you don't.

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2017 @ 8:20am

      Re: You may have a right in theroy

      You only have rights that you are strong enough to defend. Otherwise, they're just privileges.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2017 @ 10:03am

        Re: Re: You may have a right in theroy

        Your rights are enshrined upon a piece of parchment
        ... and words are cheap.

        Actions are not cheap, that is why so few do anything about their sacred words being twisted into lies supporting the rationalizations of deeds done in order to enrich the coffers of a few.

        And - oh my ... when those few with all the ill gotten gains perceive their rights have been violated, look out because they get very angry.

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

  • identicon
    joseph, 28 Jan 2017 @ 8:19am

    simple-- it's tyranny

    `

    ".... it's hard to fathom any actual justification for this..."




    Geeez -- this stuff is outright tyranny --- it ain't hard to fathom at all !

    Your government wants to closely watch & control you -- and is putting the finishing touches on a police state.

    NSL's, secret police searches, and secret court orders & proceedings can NOT exist in a free society. But they are widespread now --- which means you do not live in a free society. Duh

    If you can't fathom this stuff and the Bill-of-Rights -- you are beyond salvation.
    Enjoy your Gulag

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

  • identicon
    GEMont, 28 Jan 2017 @ 10:30am

    The Public is the Adversary - The Enemy of the State.

    "It's hard to see how revealing that kind of information -- in any way -- compromises law enforcement or intelligence investigations. The only thing it serves to do is to hide from the public the scale of the surveillance."

    All that is needed, to understand this thing fully, is to change one word in the above paragraph.

    "It's hard to see how revealing that kind of information -- in any way -- compromises law enforcement or intelligence investigations. The only thing it serves to do is to hide from the enemy, the scale of the surveillance."

    Voila! Easy as pie.

    In fact, if you look at all of the Government's post 9/11 Activities, and insert the word "enemy" wherever the word public might occur, all of those activities make complete sense.

    Of course, one would have to be able to actually believe that the USfed would literally declare a secret war against Terrorists, Hackers and Drug Dealers (all civilian occupations) and simply label all US citizens as suspects awaiting sufficient evidence for conviction.

    Since you're all guilty as sin (the feds just lacks evidence to convict you), your rights can be ignored legally, whenever the Feds deem it necessary.

    One thing about Fascists - they love to use the law to commit crimes. :)

    Apparently this is still beyond most Americans though, so the fascist just keep on winning all the battles.

    Who knows, maybe it really is necessary to bring the whole thing down, before it can be repaired and rebuilt.

    The T.Rump Gang should prove to be a very effective national demolition team.

    I do know one thing for sure, as long as those who have been labelled "The Adversary" think the system aint broken, there is no hope for a fix and all this shit will just get worse.

    Guaranteed.

    ---

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

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 28 Jan 2017 @ 4:39pm

      Re: The Public is the Adversary - The Enemy of the State.

      hide from the enemy

      And they use a very loose definition of enemy. Mostly anyone that would even dare to suggest what they want is, perhaps, ill considered.

      One thing about Fascists - they love to use the law to commit crimes. :) Apparently this is still beyond most Americans though, so the fascist just keep on winning all the battles.

      Many decades ago, someone observed scratch the surface of the average American, and you'll find a fascist beneath. They were right.

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

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 30 Jan 2017 @ 4:42am

        Re: Re: The Public is the Adversary - The Enemy of the State.

        "Many decades ago, someone observed scratch the surface of the average American, and you'll find a fascist beneath. They were right."

        Says you. Just another useful idiot spreading bullshit they read somewhere

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

        • identicon
          I.T. Guy, 30 Jan 2017 @ 6:40am

          Re: Re: Re: The Public is the Adversary - The Enemy of the State.

          Methinks someone needs to recognize exactly what fascism is:

          01. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - CHECK!!!
          02. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - CHECK!!!
          03. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - CHECK!!!
          04. Supremacy of the Military - TRIPLE CHECK!!!
          05. Rampant Sexism - CHECK!!!
          06. Controlled Mass Media - UBER TRIPLE CHECK!!!
          07. Obsession with National Security - CHECK!!!
          08. Religion and Government are Intertwined - CHECK!!!
          09. Corporate Power is Protected - CHECK!!!
          10. Labor Power is Suppressed - CHECK!!!
          11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - CHECK
          12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - CHECK!!!
          13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - CHECK!!!
          14. Fraudulent Elections - CHECK!!!

          As I was reading this I could think of many examples in every case. A little bit of consulting with Prof Google will confirm it.

          and there's more:
          15. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy - CHECK!!!
          16. Create a gulag - CHECK!!!
          17. Harass citizens' groups - CHECK!!!
          18. Engage in arbitrary detention and release - CHECK!!!
          19. Dissent equals treason - CHECK!!!
          20. Suspend the rule of law - CHECK!!!

          Is this enough for you to wake the fuck up yet?

          I dare anyone to read these and not come up with examples in your heads that you have read about elsewhere.

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

          • identicon
            Wendy Cockcroft, 31 Jan 2017 @ 7:28am

            Re: Re: Re: Re: The Public is the Adversary - The Enemy of the State.

            Now that we know what we're dealing with, RESIST!

            It doesn't matter that many of the people involved in the Resist movement are liberals and various flavours of progressive through to outright socialist. If they're on our side for this, they're on our side. We can fight about our differences later. We'll be free to argue about our differences later.

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

  • icon
    Coyne Tibbets (profile), 29 Jan 2017 @ 5:17pm

    A government wizard explains

    "If I have a pile of NSL's and I count them: 1...2...3...4...5...6... and then I publish that there are '6' NSL's, well then...

    "Each of those NSL's is part of that count. And if you just take a properly charged magic wand and wave it over that '6' then you can scry each of the individual NSL's that made up that count.

    "As you can clearly see, that would expose the contents of each of the 6 NSL's. So we must take care to keep that '6' confidential, just as we keep the NSL's confidential. That '6' is six times as secret as each NSL!

    "It might seem fanciful, but magic is real!"

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


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