Twitter threatens to sue Obama administration

Twitter says it is prepared to sue the Obama administration for the right to disclose more details about government surveillance requests.

In a blog post on Thursday, the head of global legal policy for the micro-blogging website said a recent agreement between tech groups and the Justice Department did not go far enough to address the company's concerns.

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“We think the government’s restriction on our speech not only unfairly impacts our users’ privacy, but also violates our First Amendment right to free expression and open discussion of government affairs,” Jeremy Kessel wrote.

“Therefore, 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. We are also considering legal options we may have to seek to defend our First Amendment rights.”

Last week, five tech companies reached a deal with the Justice Department to disclose when they receive national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act orders, which force companies to turn over information about users. But the agreement only allows companies to report ranges of 250 or 1,000, depending on how they categorize the requests. 

Twitter says that’s not enough.

“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,” Kessel wrote on Thursday. “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.”

Companies have said that consumers around the world trust them less because they don’t know the extent to which they are handing information over to the government. 

Twitter did not release information about the national security requests it had received. It has seen a steady increase in the number of other government requests about users' accounts it has received in the last two years, it said.

About 59 percent of requests in the last six months of 2013 came from the U.S., Twitter said, though 45 different countries have asked for information since 2012.