Tech giants like Google, Twitter, and Facebook have a surveillance problem on their hands: they have created some of the most ubiquitous surveillance networks in human history, and now the U.S. government is taking advantage of those systems by making them hand over their records. Now, Twitter is trying to tell the world exactly what’s been happening.
In a blog post called “Taking the fight for #transparency to court,” Twitters VP of Legal announced that they’re filing a lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice:
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.
Now, Twitter isn’t suing the FBI to stop the spying — they just want to be able tell people exactly what kind of spying is going on. Back in April, they wrote a Transparency Report that tells users exactly what kind of requests the government is making, and how the company is complying with them. When Twitter submitted theirs to the FBI, the FBI didn’t like the level of detail in the report, and declined to let Twitter publish it.
This lawsuit is to allow for the Transparency Report to finally be published. The trouble with this is an FBI document called a National Security Letters, or NSL. When the FBI serves up an NSL (without warrant or court permission), companies not only have to comply, but also keep it a secret that they handed over anything to begin with.
Twitter may not be suing the FBI over their pervasive spying, but someone in a lesser-known case is. Today in an appeals court in California, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is arguing against the entire premise of NSLs, and are trying to declare the entire practice unconstitutional. If they win that case, it won’t be a complete defeat of our system of domestic spying, but it could prevent the need for further lawsuits like the one Twitter filed yesterday.
Here’s the full text of Twitter’s complaint, uploaded and embedded, in all its glory. For a succinct history of the issue, section “V. Factual Background,” on page three is a good place to start, and to find out exactly what Twitter wants, skip to the “Prayer For Relief” on page 16: