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Twitter Fails to Obtain Permission to Disclose Surveillance Requests

Twitter will not be allowed to disclose more information on national security requests after the U.S. government convinced a judge that the disclosure of such information could harm national security.

Twitter has been releasing transparency reports since 2012. In these reports, the social media giant provides information on legal requests for account information and content removal, copyright and trademark notices, platform manipulation, and advertisers.

In the case of information requests, the company shares numbers on the government and non-government legal requests it receives in a certain timeframe. In 2014, companies were given permission to disclose some information on the national security requests they receive, including FISA court orders and national security letters. However, they could only disclose very large ranges — for example, they can say that they have received between 0 and 499 requests or between 500 and 999 requests.Twitter will not be allowed to release information on surveillance requests

Later in 2014, after negotiations failed, Twitter filed a lawsuit against the United States Justice Department in hopes of obtaining permission to disclose more detailed information on surveillance 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,” Twitter said in a blog post published in 2014, before filing its lawsuit.

In documents submitted as part of the lawsuit, Twitter argued, “The Government argues that the limitations imposed on Twitter are necessary because disclosure of data concerning the number and type of national security legal process that it received in a time period would impair national security interests and is properly classified. However, the Government has not presented evidence, beyond a generalized explanation, to demonstrate that disclosure of the information in the Draft Transparency Report would present such a grave and serious threat of damage to national security as to meet the applicable strict scrutiny standard.”

However, Twitter failed to convince Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, a federal judge for the United States District Court, who last week ruled in favor of the government.

“The Court finds that the [government’s] declarations contain sufficient factual detail to justify the Government’s classification of the aggregate information in Twitter’s 2014 Draft Transparency Report on the grounds that the information would be likely to lead to grave or imminent harm to the national security, and that no more narrow tailoring of the restrictions can be made,” the judge wrote in her ruling.

In response to the ruling, Twitter said it was disappointed with the decision, but it would continue to fight for transparency.

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Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.