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Twitter sues US Justice Dept over surveillance disclosure

Microblogging firm argues free speech infringement in government gag rules

Twitter sues US Justice Dept over surveillance disclosure

Twitter Inc filed a legal action against the US Department of Justice yesterday, suing for its right to reveal the nature and number of government requests for private user information.

The microblogging firm said the action, filed in California, hits back against government gag orders that prevent companies from even disclosing that they have not received any requests for information, which, Twitter's legal team argues, violates constitutional principles of free speech.

"This is an important issue for anyone who believes in a strong First Amendment [free speech], and we hope to be able to share our complete transparency report," Twitter said in a blog post.

Web companies in the US have called for transparency of surveillance programmes since a project named Prism was disclosed last year by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Under prism, US security agencies could make requests for information through a secret court and all arguments and decisions remained undisclosed.

Current rules allow companies to disclose only broad ranges and time periods regarding information requests. The framework, agreed between the government and a consortium that included Google Inc and Microsoft Corp, may allow an email company, for example, to say it received between zero and 999 orders within a six-month period.

"We've tried to achieve the level of transparency our users deserve without litigation, but to no avail," Twitter said in Tuesday's blogpost. It said it was "asking the court to declare these restrictions on our ability to speak about government surveillance as unconstitutional under the First Amendment."

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