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Twitter Swatted Down in User Surveillance Transparency Lawsuit

  • Judge sides with U.S. citing concern for national security
  • Social media firm argued its free-speech rights were violated
Twitter Inc. Illustrations Ahead Of Earnings Release
Photographer: Alex FLynn/Bloomberg

Twitter Inc. lost its six-year legal battle to let the public know exactly how many requests it received from the FBI to snoop on private user accounts.

A federal judge said Friday the government convinced her that granting the request “would be likely to lead to grave or imminent harm to the national security.”

Twitter broke ranks with other large internet companies, including Facebook Inc. and Google Inc. in 2014 when it balked at the government’s order that it only reveal the number of national security letters -- basically search warrants -- in aggregate numbers of 1,000.

It sued to be allowed to publish the precise number as part of a planned “transparency report” and argued that being prohibited from doing so violated its free speech rights.

After years of litigation that spanned the tenures of four U.S. attorneys general -- Eric Holder, Loretta Lynch, Jeff Sessions and William Barr -- U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers granted the government’s request to dismiss the lawsuit.

She wrote in an 11-page ruling that the Justice Department had shown — in part through the use of confidential declarations — that releasing the precise number of national security letters from 2014 — which is what Twitter wanted to do — posed a national security risk.