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Twitter sues government over free speech

Twitter sued the U.S. Department of Justice on Tuesday as part of its continued clash with federal agencies over free speech and its right to reveal the extent to which it has been asked to participate in surveillance. According to Twitter, the lawsuit is the result of months of negotiations that have not yielded results, reported Reuters.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for Northern California and pertained to limitations on the company's ability to reveal any national security requests for user information to the public. Twitter argues that such restrictions violate the Constitution's First Amendment protection of free speech, according to the new source.

"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," the company said in a blog post.

Other tech companies have clashed with the government
In recent news, companies like Google and Microsoft reached an agreement with the government regarding court orders for surveillance information. The agreement allowed tech companies to publish orders they received in broad ranges, with a delay. For example, Google could say that it received between 1 and 2,000 requests from an intelligence agency in a given year for email content of a person outside of the U.S.

"The U.S. government has taken the position that service providers like Twitter are even prohibited from saying that they have received zero national security requests, or zero of a particular type of national security request," Twitter said in its complaint, reported Reuters.

Tech companies are continually trying to understand what their position is in relation to spying agencies, especially after the Edward Snowden leak, which publicized the extent to which the National Security Agency spies on citizens.

Twitter has approximately 271 million monthly users according to Reuters. Users frequently send messages consisting of 140 characters on the service, which describes itself as an advocate of free speech. The American Civil Liberties Union supported Twitter's recent move, saying that the company had acted admirably.

"[Twitter is] challenging this tangled web of secrecy rules and gag orders," said the ACLU in a statement, according to the news source.

Justice Department spokeswoman Emily Pierce explained in the lawsuit how the government has worked with other tech companies and could reach a healthy balance between disclosure and confidentiality.

"There, the parties worked collaboratively to allow tech companies to provide broad information on government requests while also protecting national security," Pierce said, according to Reuters.

Ensuring users that their privacy is well-guarded
Tech companies asserted that without the ability to disclose details about the data requests they received, users can only speculate on which kinds of information they are required to submit to the government. If people knew how many requests the company received, Twitter argued, then people would be assured that their privacy was intact, reported Wired. 

Google chief legal officer David Drummond wrote a letter to the attorney general and the FBI. He explained that if the company was allowed to publish actual figures, the public would know that the company does not acquiesce to all requests.

"Google's numbers would clearly show that our compliance with these requests falls far short of the claims being made. Google has nothing to hide," said Drummond, according to the news source.

It may seem that tech companies have won a battle in the war over free speech with the government but the numbers they are currently allowed to publish do not provide any real transparency. Companies are only permitted to publish a broad range of requests they receive and most figures have a six-month delay imposed on them, while others can extend up to two years, reported Wired.

"We've tried to achieve the level of transparency our users deserve without litigation, but to no avail," Twitter said in its blog post, reported Reuters.

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