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Twitter sues US government in bid to share more information on state surveillance

So upset is Twitter at the US government’s refusal to allow it to reveal the full extent of the state surveillance of its users that the San Francisco-based company has now taken the matter to court.

Although Twitter is currently able to include some surveillance details in its regular transparency reports, the company is keen to offer more information on the subject.

Announcing in a blog post that the social media company had this week filed a lawsuit with the US District Court in San Francisco, Twitter’s Ben Lee said its ability to speak more freely is “restricted by laws that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider like us from disclosing the exact number of national security letters (‘NSLs’) and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (‘FISA’) court orders received – even if that number is zero.”

Companies including Facebook, Microsoft and Google reached an agreement with the US government at the start of the year that allowed them to report the number of data requests made by the government, but only in broad ranges, not exact figures.

Describing the restrictions as a violation of its First Amendment rights, Lee said in his post that Twitter’s lawsuit claimed the company had a right “to respond to our users’ concerns and to the statements of US government officials by providing information about the scope of US government surveillance – including what types of legal process have not been received.”

Lee added, “We should be free to do this in a meaningful way, rather than in broad, inexact ranges.”

Related: Huge number of non-targeted Web users caught in NSA’s net 

The move by Twitter and other Web firms to start offering the public details of government requests for information on users came after whistleblower Edward Snowden last year revealed details of state surveillance involving agencies such as the NSA, which had been collecting data on citizens via a slew of mainstream websites and online services.

Twitter wants to be more detailed and open with the information it publishes in its transparency reports, and hopes it can make progress in that direction by taking the matter to court.

Lee explained that the company had been trying to reach an agreement with the government without resorting to litigation, but said that “many months of discussion” had led nowhere.