Twitter Sues Government Over Transparency Restrictions

Twitter said the government's restrictions are unconstitutional, arguing it should be able to share more information about surveillance requests with

Twitter Sues Government Over Transparency Restrictions
Getty Images / Bethany Clarke

Twitter announced Tuesday it is suing the government over restrictions that don't allow the company to share certain details about National Security Agency requests for user information. 

The lawsuit stems from Edward Snowden's leaks about the NSA and how tech companies complied with those federal government requests. 

The Justice Department said earlier this year tech companies could disclose some information about surveillance efforts in transparency reports — but Twitter reps said the scope of what they can reveal doesn't go far enough. 

In a letter posted to Twitter's blog, company lawyer Ben Lee wrote, "It’s our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users’ concerns ... We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges." 

For example, the Department of Justice said companies affected by the government's gag rule could report the number of National Security Letters (NSLs) received in bands of 1000 starting with 0-999. Essentially, no requests and 999 requests could be grouped in the same category. 

The American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director praised the social media network Tuesday, saying, "Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders. ... We hope that other technology companies will now follow Twitter’s lead."

Twitter is the first company to sue the federal government over transparency restrictions, but it isn't the first to challenge the government. 

Yahoo recently won a legal battle to release documents related to government requests for information. The documents revealed how Yahoo initially fought the government's surveillance efforts, lost and was subsequently threatened with a $250,000/day fine for non-compliance. 

Although the Department of Justice has yet to comment on Twitter's lawsuit, The Washington Post says government officials have argued the limits on what companies can share with the public is in the interest of national security. 

Lee also said in his post Tuesday the lawsuit is a part of a larger effort pushing for reform of "government surveillance powers." A coalition of tech firms is behind the push, including Apple, AOL, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

This video includes images from Getty Images.