Policy: Technology

Twitter weighing 'legal options' on surveillance transparency

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Social media giant Twitter on Thursday criticized measures governing how much information communications companies can provide about federal national security requests and said it was considering “legal options” to press for “greater transparency.”

In a blog post on the company's website blog, Jeremy Kessel, Twitter's manager of global legal policy, said a compromise between the Justice Department and some tech companies announced last week on sharing requests for data did not go far enough.

“While this agreement is a step in the right direction, these ranges do not provide meaningful or sufficient transparency for the public, especially for entities that do not receive a significant number of — or any — national security requests,” said Kessel.

Under the agreement, the government will allow telecommunications companies to provide greater detail on the number of national security requests they receive -- but within set number ranges.

The move came after tech companies expressed concerns that a lack of transparency would cost them customers after leaks by former government contractor Edward Snowden detailed the extent of the National Security Agency's surveillance of phone and Internet traffic.

Tech companies want to reassure consumers that the requests are few in number and that users’ personal information is secure.

The government touted the compromise saying it would increase the amount of information companies could share with their customers, while still protecting national security interests.

But Twitter and other tech leaders have expressed concern that the measures are still too stringent.

“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,” said Kessel in his post.

“In addition, we also want the freedom to disclose that we do not receive certain types of requests, if, in fact, we have not received any,” he added.

Kessel said that Twitter believes the government's restrictions on disclosing that data “not only unfairly impacts our users' privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs.”

“We have pressed the U.S. Department of Justice to allow greater transparency, and proposed future disclosures concerning national security requests that would be more meaningful to Twitter’s users,” he added. “We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

Kessel's statement also comes after Twitter released their latest transparency report sharing information on the last two years of government data requests from around the world.

Twitter said that in the last 24 months they had seen a 66 percent increase in requests for user data from more than 45 countries.

The report said that over 6,400 user accounts had been affected, but noted that constituted only 0.0028 percent of Twitter’s 230 million active users worldwide.

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