Twitter vows fight to disclose more government data requests

The site says it's considering legal options to defend its right to reveal more about the government's requests for user data.

James Martin/CNET

The US government is giving tech companies more freedom to disclose government data requests. But for Twitter, it's not enough.

In a blog posted Thursday, Jeremy Kessel, Twitter's manager for Global Legal Policy, said the company sees the current restrictions against disclosure as a violation of its First Amendment rights. As such, the microblogging site has been battling with the US government.

"We have pressed the US Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter's users," Kessel said. "We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights."

Many other companies have been pressing the government for the freedom to reveal more about data requests. Last week, the Department of Justice opened the door a crack by allowing tech firms to disclose the number of FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) requests they receive each year and how many people are affected by those requests.

Kessel called that move a step in the right direction but said it doesn't cover other types of national security requests:

We think it is essential for companies to be able to disclose numbers of national security requests of all kinds -- including national security letters and different types of FISA court orders -- separately from reporting on all other requests. For the disclosure of national security requests to be meaningful to our users, it must be within a range that provides sufficient precision to be meaningful. Allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency. In addition, we also want the freedom to disclose that we do not receive certain types of requests, if, in fact, we have not received any.

Twitter's latest Transparency Report reveals a 66 percent rise in the number of requests received over the past two years, Kessel said. From July through December 2013, the company fielded requests from 46 countries affecting around 6,400 out of its 230 million user accounts. The United States took the top spot for information requests, accounting for 833 in total.

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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