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Twitter Sues Justice Department, FBI for Right to Reveal Scope of Government Surveillance

"Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders," says the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer

Twitter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to be able to fully disclose to users snooping requests. (Photo:  Maryland GovPics/flickr/cc)

Twitter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government in a federal court on Tuesday over what the information network says are over-restrictive laws that prevent full disclosure of the scope of government surveillance.

The suit names as defendants Attorney General Eric Holder, the Department of Justice, FBI head James Comey and the FBI, and notes, "The Snowden disclosures have deepened public concern regarding the scope of governmental national security surveillance."

While technologies companies, like Twitter, Google and Facebook, are able to issue transparency reports, those reports can only identify the number of government requests for user data in broad ranges.

"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," Ben Lee, a Twitter vice president, wrote in a blog post.

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And that, Lee stated, violates the company's constitutional rights.

"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," Lee wrote.

Jameel Jaffer, American Civil Liberties Union deputy legal director, issued a statement that "Twitter is doing the right thing by challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders," and said that he hopes the move will spark similar action by other technology firms.

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