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Twitter Sues USA Over Surveillance Data

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Twitter sued the U.S. government in Federal Court Tuesday, claiming Uncle Sam violated its First Amendment rights by forbidding publication of information on government surveillance.

The San Francisco-based social media giant claims its efforts to be transparent about surveillance are hampered by laws that prohibit service-providers from disclosing information about court orders and government subpoenas.

"It's our belief that we are entitled under the First Amendment to respond to our users' concerns and to the statements of U.S. government officials by providing information about the scope of U.S. government surveillance," wrote Ben Lee, a Twitter vice president, in a blog post.

Named as defendants are Attorney General Eric Holder, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Twitter seeks to "lawfully publish" information from a transparency report addendum submitted to the DOJ and FBI in April.

Lee claims that "after many months of discussions, we were unable to convince them to allow us to publish even a redacted version of the report."

The government told Twitter in September that information in the report is classified and cannot be released, according to the lawsuit.

Twitter claims this forces it to "either engage in speech that has been preapproved by government officials or else to refrain from speaking altogether."

Twitter says it is being unconstitutionally restrained by laws that prohibit or criminalize the release of information, such as how many Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders and FBI national security letters it has received, even if that number is zero.

A national security letter is a subpoena that gives the FBI access to customer data.

Lee says the company should be able to report on surveillance "in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges."

The lawsuit shows that companies must report data about court orders and national security letters in broad ranges, for instance, between 0-999, but without revealing the number.

Twitter seeks a declaratory judgment that says, among other things, that the government's secrecy provisions and broad reporting requirements are unconstitutional.

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