Twitter v. USA Case Heats up in Oakland Court

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By Jonathan R. Tung, Esq. on May 03, 2016 3:57 PM

A California federal district court took a little and gave a little in the Twitter versus government surveillance fight. The court agreed completely with a federal government argument that Twitter's complaint did not allege that information was not properly classified by the feds. However, the district judge did not concede to the government's change in venue request.

Twitter has about twenty days to amend its complaint to address concerns noted by the federal judge.

First Amendment Arguments

Twitter sued the federal government in 2014 alleging that universal restrictions applicable to Internet service providers were in violation of the company's First Amendment right to free speech. These restrictions prohibit ISPs from disclosing the number of national security letters and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court orders the company received. The company had earlier taken to social media to drum up popular enthusiasm and support for its "Transparency Report."

The court ruled that constitutional free speech does not cure-away a duty of government imposed secrecy obligations to disclose classified information. The theory is that national security matters must be treated with increased care. Thus, free speech isn't so free -- that is, not if Congress wants to shut you up.

The judge did leave open an alternative route for Twitter and gave the social media company until May 24 to amend its lawsuit, allowing it to argue that the surveillance request numbers are not classified info.

Re Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

The district court also addressed the somewhat dual request by the government. First, the federal government requested that the federal district court toss the suit because the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) is a more proper venue.

But the government request to change venues failed because it was ruled that Twitter was not disputing an order or decision of the court, but rather disputing a government requirement (legislative or executive) to report a number of information requests.

Barring any further procedural moves, the case will remain in federal court in Oakland, California.

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