Tags: MidPoint | Dan Aaronson | Twitter | government requests | social media

Lawyer: Let Twitter Disclose Data Requests

By    |   Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 07:53 PM

Twitter has good reason to challenge a national security gag rule on Internet companies, but it's debatable whether courts will let the social media giant reveal anything about the information that it's routinely asked to turn over to the government, says a veteran First Amendment lawyer.

A mandatory code of silence for certain private companies is at the heart of Twitter's lawsuit against the FBI and the Department of Justice, Dan Aaronson, chairman emeritus of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, told "MidPoint" host Ed Berliner on Newsmax TV Thursday.

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"Normally the federal government does its own surveillance," said Aaronson. "Here, they're employing private companies and … mandating them under certain federal acts … to give them this information. And [then] they're mandating them not to speak."

Twitter executives want to tell their users how many national security data requests the company receives each year from the government, but cannot.

"Our ability to speak has been 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," Twitter legal affairs vice president Ben Lee wrote in a company blog post.

Aaronson said that Twitter is not disputing the government's right to user information, just the blanket prohibition on any form of disclosure.

He seconded Twitter's argument, saying that "they have a duty to their users, not to the U.S. government. Not that they're not good citizens, but their duty is to the users, and they have a First Amendment right to tell these people what they're doing."

He conceded that courts might disagree because, in trying to balance security and privacy, "everybody will draw the line in a different place."

Aaronson also discussed the furor surrounding "7th Heaven" actor Stephen Collins, who is under police investigation for child abuse, based on his wife's secret tape recording of a therapy session in which Collins reportedly confessed to sexual contact with underage girls.

Aaronson said the case raises numerous legal questions, and demonstrates that patient-therapist privilege — the guarantee of confidentiality for what's said in treatment — is increasingly subject to law enforcement and public safety exceptions.

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Twitter has good reason to challenge a gag rule on Internet companies, but it's debatable whether courts will let the social media giant reveal anything about the information that it's asked to turn over to the government, says a veteran First Amendment lawyer.
Dan Aaronson, Twitter, government requests, social media
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2014-53-09
Thursday, 09 Oct 2014 07:53 PM
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