Twitter takes a free speech stand against U.S. government

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SOURCE: Mercury News

While not quite as momentous as the legal tussle over the Pentagon Papers, in the ongoing push-pull between the First Amendment and national security, Twitter is taking an important stand against government overreach.

Last year, thanks to pressure brought by tech companies such as Google, LinkedIn and Facebook, the government relaxed the gag rules associated with national security-related warrants and subpoenas. But it still dictated exactly how much the companies could disclose about these requests.

Twitter, which has probably been the most aggressive of the major tech companies in pushing against these limits, argues in a suit it filed in federal court in San Francisco that it should be able to publish more detailed information about the requests, citing its First Amendment right to free speech.

This fight may seem a small matter given past battles between speech rights and government’s powers. The Twitter case does not raise the same grave matters as the Pentagon Papers, secret documents that described the history of American involvement in Vietnam, which were at the center of one of the most important free-speech cases in U.S. history. Nor is this as important as the current debates over the government’s broad crackdown on journalists reporting on counterterrorism efforts.

But the principle is the same: how to strike the balance between the free-flow of information in a democracy versus the need to keep some secrets from our enemies. And it comes in this post-Snowden world of ours, whose disclosures of National Security Agency surveillance have raised profound questions about the government’s efforts to monitor communications in its hunt for terror plots. In the wake of those disclosures, it seems to me that it’s more important than ever for us to have a better understanding of just what the government is up to in our name.

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