- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 8, 2017

A federal judge has given Twitter permission to proceed with a First Amendment lawsuit brought against the Department of Justice over restrictions limiting how tech companies can disclose details about government surveillance requests.

Twitter sued the government in 2014 after the Justice Department barred the company from revealing the exact number of requests for user data it’s received from federal authorities, but the government countered by claiming disclosing that data would be detrimental to national security.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers ruled against the government’s bid for summary judgement Thursday and said it’s restrictions constitute a prior restraint on Twitter’s freedom of speech and “subject to the highest level of scrutiny under the First Amendment.”

“The government has not presented evidence, beyond a generalized explanation, to demonstrate that disclosure of the information in the draft transparency report would present such a grave and serious threat of damage to national security as to meet the applicable strict-scrutiny standard,” the judge ordered.

“Even where courts have hesitated to apply the highest level of scrutiny due to competing secrecy and national security concerns, they have nevertheless held that heightened or rigorous scrutiny of such restrictions on speech is required,” she added.

The judge dismissed the government’s argument and instead ordered the Justice Department to expedite the process of granting security clearances for Twitter’s attorneys so they can review any classified documents subsequently filed in Washington’s defense.

“This is an important issue for anyone who believes in a strong First Amendment, and we will continue with our efforts to share our complete transparency report,” Twitter said in a statement welcoming the ruling.

Existing rules allow Twitter and other tech companies to disclose the number of government surveillance requests they’ve received in wide bands, such as 0-999. Twitter has argued the restrictions are unconstitutional and prevent the company from being transparent with its customers.

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