Twitter Surveillance Data Lawsuit Survives U.S. Effort to Kill It

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By Alexis Kramer

A federal district court July 6 denied the Justice Department’s bid to toss a lawsuit by Twitter Inc. over publication of national security requests for user data ( Twitter v. Sessions , 2017 BL 233585, N.D. Cal., No. 4:14-cv-04480, 7/6/17 ).

Twitter sought to include the number of national security letters it received from the FBI in a transparency report for its users.

According to Twitter, the FBI told the company that it couldn’t publish the information because it is classified. Twitter filed a complaint, alleging that the information wasn’t properly classified and is protected by the First Amendment’s free-speech guarantee.

The case tests the balance between U.S. national security interests and internet users’ desire to know more about government requests for social media account information.

The government “has not met its high burden to overcome the strong presumption of unconstitutionality on the record,” U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers wrote. The court found that the government’s restriction was a prior restraint on free speech, subject to the highest level of scrutiny.

The Justice Department is reviewing the decision, spokeswoman Nicole Navas Oxman told Bloomberg BNA July 6.

Not Narrowly Tailored

Under strict scrutiny review, the government must show that the restriction is narrowly tailored to serve a compelling interest.

The government failed to sufficiently show how the restriction was narrowly tailored to prevent a national security threat, the court said. The government didn’t base its restriction on an “actual finding that permitting the speech would seriously damage national security” but, rather, on the fact that the information was more “precise” than what the current disclosure framework allows, it said.

The court ordered the government to move forward with the process for granting national security clearances to Twitter’s lead counsel to review classified materials relevant to the case.

Perkins Coie LLP is representing Twitter.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alexis Kramer in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at

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