Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled that Twitter cannot disclose the U.S. government’s surveillance requests. The California Northern District Court granted the government’s motion for summary judgment and denied Twitter’s cross-motion for summary judgment. The Judge stated that Twitter’s request to disclose a portion of the company’s Draft Transparency Report “would be likely to lead to grave or imminent harm to the national security.” The court noted the tension in the case between the First Amendment and national security.
Twitter sought a declaratory judgment that the government’s supposed “‘prohibitions on [Twitter’s] speech in violation of the First Amendment,’ specifically the Government’s prohibition on publishing its Draft Transparency Report ‘describing the amount of national security legal process it received, if any for the period July 1 to December 31, 2013.’” Twitter wanted to break down the types of requests and the specific number of requests it received for each type. Meanwhile, the United States government has sought to prevent Twitter’s Draft Transparency Report, “asserting that certain portions of the report contained classified information.” As a result, Twitter claimed that the “Government has classified information in the Draft Transparency Report improperly and therefore put unlawful prior restraints on its speech in violation of the First Amendment.” Twitter states this has violated its First Amendment rights. The government stated their restrictions on Twitter are “constitutionally valid” as this information posed a national security threat. Twitter countered with a cross motion against the government’s allegations, stating that the government did not satisfy scrutiny under the Pentagon Papers standard, the restrictions placed on Twitter’s disclosure in its draft should be lifted, and that Twitter’s counsel should be given access to this information.
The court found that the government passes the strict scrutiny test. Moreover, Twitter’s allegations fail to claim the procedural safeguard principles of Freedman. As a result, the Court grants the U.S. government’s motion for summary judgment and denies Twitter’s motion for summary judgment. Additionally, the Court leaves the issue of procedural safeguards for another action.
In 2014, Twitter sued the U.S. Department of Justice stating that the agency violated its free speech rights because the company was banned from disclosing the number of surveillance requests it receives from the U.S. government. “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,” Jeremy Kessel, policy director for Twitter, stated. Meanwhile, Google and Facebook agreed to these broad security request numbers with the government at the time.
A spokesperson for Twitter stated that Twitter was “disappointed” with the Judge’s decision. “We believe it is vital that the public see the demands we receive, and how we work to strike a balance between respecting local law, supporting people’s ability to Tweet, and protecting people from harm.” The spokesperson continued that, “freedom of expression is the cornerstone of why we exist.”