There is no hiding the fact that the government has been requesting personal info of users from tech behemoths. But Twitter had to hide the same from going public due to a gag order. Today, however, the gag order has been lifted and the micro-blogging giant is sharing info related to the two National Security Letters (NSL). These were served by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the name of national security.
In a blog post titled ‘#Transparency update,’ Twitter says that it received two national security requests — one in 2015 and the other in 2016. These NSLs requested massive amounts of data for two user accounts but the company decided to provide only a limited set of information. And this wasn’t against their law, the data presented was consistent with federal law and interpretive guidance from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Further, the company has shared the redacted versions of the National Security letters. These hide the details of the users but reveal to us the timing and location of the request. The first NSL was drafted in September 2015 and presented to Twitter by Michelle Klimt, an FBI agent in charge of Jacksonville, Florida. He requested information of an account from December 2014 until the present date. The second one, dated June 2016, was filed by Michael Anderson, a special agent in charge at FBI’s Houston, Texas division. It also requested all details and info on an account from the very beginning.
Twitter had been presented with these requests a long time ago but they could only present us the full picture now, courtesy of the gag order. This situation begs the recipients not to disclose the existence of such a letter to neither the user base nor the user whose data is being asked for. While the company co-operated with the FBI and presented them with the info they required but they were extremely displeased about these practices not being completely transparent. Twitter took this as an opportunity to reiterate its commitment to transparency practices.
In the official blog post, Elizabeth Banker, associate general counsel for Global Law Enforcement at Twitter, says,
We continue to believe that reporting in government-mandated bands does not provide meaningful transparency to the public or those using our service.
Twitter remains unsatisfied with restrictions on our right to speak more freely about national security requests we may receive. We continue to push for the legal ability to speak more openly on this topic
We would like a meaningful opportunity to challenge government restrictions when “classification” prevents speech on issues of public importance.
This isn’t the first time the government has requested these humongous tech behemoths to provide them with confidential and private user data, without the said user’s request. Google, Yahoo, and Cloudflare have recently started taking to their blog posts to detail the number of such order they’ve received from the authorities. Google publishes its transparency report every year, to particularly shed light on activities that might haven’t been reported to the public. This gives the public closure and builds a robust image for the technology giant as well.