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Twitter Wins Round for Free Speech Against DOJ

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Don't look now, but the FBI is on the run.

Twitter sued the FBI and the Department of Justice to establish the company's right to say how many national security requests it receives from the government. It is part of the company's transparency report to tell users how often governments request their information.

The government recently lost its motion for summary judgment, while Twitter won its motion for an expedited process. As the case heads to trial, free speech advocates and other social media companies are cheering from the sidelines.

Free Speech

The case has been going on since 2014, when Twitter sued the government after offering a draft of its transparency report. The government rejected it, saying the report was too specific and that Twitter should only report general numbers.

The government allowed Twitter to describe the numbers only in vague ranges, such as "0 to 499," and "500 to 999," etc. Twitter's attorneys said the limitation was a prior restraint and violated the company's First Amendment rights.

At a hearing in February, U.S. District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers challenged the government to explain how Twitter's report would jeopardize national security. In her subsequent opinion, she said the government failed to justify its limits on Twitter's speech.

"(T)he Government has not presented evidence, beyond a generalized explanation, to demonstrate that disclosure of the information in the Draft Transparency Report would present such a grave and serious threat of damage to national security as to meet the applicable scrutiny standard," she wrote.

Battle Escalates

In recent years, social media and other tech companies increasingly have issued transparency reports. Ars Technica says they want to show how many law enforcement requests come from countries around the world.

Meanwhile, the free speech battle between the U.S. government and Twitter escalated. Reuters broke a story in April that the Trump administration was trying to force the company to unmask an anti-Trump account.

The company's attorneys said Twitter and its users had a constitutional right to disseminate anonymous political speech. The ACLU said it would represent the user in the case.

When the U.S. Customs and Border Protection withdrew its summons, however, Twitter dropped the case. Yeah, like a run for the border.

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