As part of our latest transparency report released in July, we described how we were being prohibited from reporting on the actual scope of surveillance of Twitter users by the U.S. government. 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.
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.
So, today, we have filed a lawsuit in federal court seeking to publish our full Transparency Report, and asking the court to declare these restrictions on our ability to speak about government surveillance as unconstitutional under the First Amendment. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is already considering the constitutionality of the non-disclosure provisions of the NSL law later this week.
You can read our filing with the U.S. District Court of Northern California in PDF form here.
We’ve tried to achieve the level of transparency our users deserve without litigation, but to no avail. In April, we provided a draft Transparency Report addendum to the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, a report which we hoped would provide meaningful transparency for our users. After many months of discussions, we were unable to convince them to allow us to publish even a redacted version of the report.
Meanwhile, we continue to look for comprehensive reform of government surveillance powers in the U.S., and we support meaningful efforts such as the USA Freedom Act of 2014 as introduced by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which would allow companies like Twitter to provide more transparency to its users.
This is an important issue for anyone who believes in a strong First Amendment, and we hope to be able to share our complete Transparency Report.