DOJ asks court to dismiss Twitter lawsuit

The Justice Department is asking a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by Twitter that claims the social media company's First Amendment rights were violated.

Twitter filed the lawsuit after it was blocked from publishing transparency reports with exact details on the number of government orders it receives to turn over customer information.


The DOJ, in a court filing last week, denied that its nondisclosure policies violate the First Amendment, maintaining it must balance transparency with national security concerns.

“The additional material that Twitter seeks to publish is information that the Government has judged is properly protected classified national security information, the disclosure of which would risk serious harm to national security,” the Justice Department wrote in its brief. 

The department also asked the court to dismiss a number of other aspects of Twitter’s complaint, before taking up the First Amendment issue. 

The social media company announced in October it would sue the Justice Department. Twitter maintains that its First Amendment rights are being violated because of its inability to publish the number of orders received and “what types of legal process have not been received.”

The government restricts companies from disclosing the exact number of national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders given to them. 

The letters allow agents to obtain records about people’s phone, Internet and financial activity without a court order. The vast majority of the letters also place a “gag order” on the companies handing over the information, which prevents them from disclosing the details of what they are forced to hand over to the federal government.

The government and a number of technology companies — not including Twitter — came to an agreement last year that allowed them to publish transparency reports the amount of government orders they receive within a broad range. That agreement does not allow companies to disclosure the exact number of orders received, “even if that number is zero,” Twitter has noted. 

A similar case dealing with two unnamed companies went before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in October.