Twitter and Department of Justice Battle Still Going Strong Over Fight Against First Amendment Issues

March 9, 2016

It seems as if the topic about user data and privacy is at an all-time high lately, especially considering the battle the Federal Bureau of Investigations is having with Apple to release information off of one of their phones. In a sweet juxtaposition, the government is finding itself on the other side of the First Amendment argument, trying to keep Twitter from releasing their own information about their dealings with the DOJ.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has once again fired a shot at Twitter in their on-going battle over the right to disclose user data. The most recent move in the lawsuit between the DOJ and Twitter that has been going on since 2014 has the DOJ filing more paperwork in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California.
Twitter is fighting back the stance made by the government that the company should not be allowed to disclose to the public any specific details about national security requests. Twitter has been adamant about battling this, saying that it is a direct contradiction to the First Amendment liberties created by the Bill of Rights. Twitter is asking the court to declare that it is free from prosecution should the company decide to disclose that information.

“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,” Twitter said in a blogpost.

After the first complaint in 2014 was denied, with the government arguing that the release of the information would make current terrorism investigations vulnerable, Twitter filed an amended complaint in November 2015. “Twitter recognizes that genuine national security concerns require that certain information about such orders be kept secret,” Twitter’s amended complaint said last year. “But the interest in secrecy does not last forever, and at some point, release of information about those orders will no longer harm national security.”
The DOJ filed their response to the amended complaint this week. In addition to attacking the legal argument Twitter made, the DOJ is asking to have the case be heard by the nation’s secret surveillance court, rather than the nation’s public court system. Twitter “can cite no authority in which a person who receives classified information as part of a confidential national security judicial process . . . has a First Amendment right to publish such information,” the government stated in their response.
In addition to asking the court to dismiss Twitter’s complaint, the government also states the company is unsuccessful in proving its claim that the information it wants to release should not be classified.
The government has solved this problem with other tech companies by going into various agreements which allow the companies to only release very broad information regarding requests for user data. With regards to the numbers, each company can only give a range, rather than the actual number. These companies include Google Inc., Yahoo Inc., Facebook Inc., Microsoft Corp., and LinkedIn Inc. When offered the same settlement, Twitter rejected to be in a similar position as the other companies.
The sweet irony between the First Amendment fights the government and technology companies are having seem to only be getting more heated, and only time will tell if the DOJ will be successful.