Twitter May Sue DOJ Over Transparency

Twitter refuses data request settlement, unlike other tech companies.

A banner with the logo of Twitter is set on the front of the New York Stock Exchange on Nov. 7, 2013, in New York.

Twitter says it is exploring legal options to gain more transparency regarding data requests.

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Twitter announced on Thursday it has not accepted a compromise from the Department of Justice allowing more transparency regarding government data requests and that the company is prepared to sue the government for more specific disclosure rights.

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Five tech companies – Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft and Yahoo – each filed petitions to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court requesting the ability to tell consumers more about government data requests. Those companies dropped the petitions in January after the DOJ announced increased disclosure rights, but in a joint statement the companies said they would push for more transparency from Congress.

The disclosure rights granted by the DOJ are not specific enough to help Twitter reassure its users that national security requests are not as broad as some fear, which places customer trust at risk and violates Twitter's “First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” the company said in its latest transparency report published on Thursday.

“We believe there are far less restrictive ways to permit discussion in this area while also respecting national security concerns,” reads a blog post from Jeremy Kessel, global legal policy manager at Twitter. “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.”
The National Security Agency requests information from tech companies and telecoms through the surveillance court, but the agency also monitored network connections between the data centers of Google and Yahoo without permission from those companies, according to documents leaked to the press by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

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In its transparency report, Twitter details government requests for account information and content takedowns due to alleged copyright violations. Companies including Yahoo and Facebook also publish reports on law enforcement and national security data requests.

Kessel noted that numerous governments are requesting more data from his company.

“Over the past 24 months, we’ve received a 66 percent increase in requests for account information coming from more than 45 different countries impacting over 6,400 accounts,” Kessel said.