Court Rejects Twitter’s Transparency Lawsuit Against Justice Dept.

Image courtesy of Tom Raftery

Twitter has hit a substantial roadblock in its nearly two-year legal battle against restrictions on what it can reveal to users about requests for data from federal law enforcement agencies. Yesterday, a U.S. District Court dismissed a substantial chunk of Twitter’s case, though the social media platform will be given an opportunity to try again.

Twitter sued the government — including the Justice Department, then-Attorney General Eric Holder, the FBI and its director James Comey — in Oct. 2014, arguing that the government’s refusal to allow the company to share data about national security requests violated Twitter’s First Amendment rights.

In June 2015, the government passed the USA FREEDOM Act, which allows for an increased level of transparency in the reports that Twitter and others share with their users. However, Twitter contends that these rules continue to be overly restrictive.

But yesterday the court dismissed [PDF] this argument, noting that Twitter simply can’t publish data that it knows is classified.

“The First Amendment does not permit a person subject to secrecy obligations to disclose classified national security information,” writes the judge, pointing out that Twitter has not challenged the fact that the data it seeks to publish is considered classified by the government. “In the absence of a challenge to the decisions classifying that information, Twitter’s Constitutional challenges simply do not allege viable claims.”

To that end, the court is giving Twitter until May 24 to amend its complaint if it wants to challenge to the government’s underlying decision to classify the information. That will likely be an uphill battle if Twitter chooses to go that route.

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