Twitter Sues The Government Over Data-Request Disclosures

Twitter wants you to know that it is serious about data request transparency, and that is a darn fine good thing.

The social company is suing the government for the right to share, in more granular detail, the requests for user data that state makes. The United States government would like such data to be opaque. Twitter, the opposite.

Both sides’ views are unsurprising. The government wants to keep terrorists in the dark. And Twitter wants to keep its users informed, so that they know that their information, at least through these specific channels, isn’t being absorbed wholesale. This argument is component to the larger debate the nation is currently having about how government surveillance impacts the privacy of the individual, and the nation as a whole.

What does Twitter want? From its post:

It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received. We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.

The nuance in the above is that when Twitter reports the number of national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders, it has to report a range such as 0-999. However, if the actual number is zero, Twitter would like to be able to say that. Given current gag rules on such specificity, it cannot.

The ACLU weighed in on Twitter’s side of the argument.

The company also called for passage of the Senate’s USA FREEDOM Act, a bill that, unlike its House counterpart of the same name, has teeth and the support of privacy groups. Other tech firms have also supported the Act.

Twitter is not the first company to take the government to court over this sort of disclosure. The right to report certain numbers at all was fought when Google and Microsoft, among others, sued. They won.

The Justice Department is reviewing Twitter’s suit. Let’s hope Twitter can bring this one home.