A federal court ruled on Monday that Twitter cannot publicly reveal the number of times the FBI asks it to provide information for national security investigations.
Since 2012, Twitter has published a “Transparency Report” detailing how often the company received government information requests or demands to remove content.
For years, the company has wanted to include the amount of National Security Letters (NSLs) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) orders it is served, but the FBI argues that number is classified and that revealing it would “harm national security.” The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit held Monday that this is a justified restriction.
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“Although we acknowledge Twitter’s desire to speak on matters of public concern, after a thorough review of the classified and unclassified record, we conclude that the government’s restriction on Twitter’s speech is narrowly tailored in support of a compelling government interest: our Nation’s security,” the majority opinion states. “Against the backdrop of explicit illustrations set forth in the classified materials of the threats that exist and the ways in which the government can best protect its intelligence resources, the panel was able to appreciate why Twitter’s proposed disclosure would risk making foreign adversaries aware of what is being surveilled and what is not being surveilled—if anything at all.”
Twitter filed the lawsuit in 2014 after the FBI declined to allow it to publish even a redacted version of the report that would not disclose the exact number of NSLs and FISA orders received, but would report them in small ranges, for example, specifying how many combined NSLs and FISA orders were received in ranges of 25, starting at 1-24. The FBI maintained that these numbers are classified.
In Twitter’s 2022 report, it documented 47,572 legal demands on 198,931 accounts, with requests from the U.S. government making up the highest amount, 20%, of global requests.
The report notes that it does not include “other requests for information deemed to be related to national security processes.”
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