X seeks to disclose FBI’s surveillance requests to users, but Supreme Court rejects case

News & Politics

On Monday, the United States Supreme Court refused to hear a decade-old lawsuit filed by Twitter, now X, that sought to publicly disclose how many times the federal government requests user data in connection with national security investigations.

In 2014, then-Twitter filed a lawsuit after the Federal Bureau of Investigation declared that the social media platform could not reveal such information to its users in its biannual transparency report. The complaint alleged that the federal government’s restrictions on the disclosures were unconstitutional by unlawfully restraining its speech.

In March, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “the government’s redactions of Twitter’s Transparency Report were narrowly tailored in support of the compelling government interest in national security” and, therefore, “did not violate the First Amendment.”

“Against the fuller backdrop of these explicit illustrations of the threats that exist and the ways in which the government can best protect its intelligence resources, we are able to appreciate why Twitter’s proposed disclosure would risk making our foreign adversaries aware of what is being surveilled and what is not being surveilled—if anything at all,” Circuit Judge Daniel Bress stated.

X sought to appeal the lower court’s ruling.

“If this Court does not intervene, different standards will apply in different circuits when entities like Twitter want to disclose how and how often the Government has demanded information from them. History demonstrates that the surveillance of electronic communications is both a fertile ground for government abuse and a lightning-rod political topic of intense concern to the public,” X wrote in its petition to the Supreme Court. “It is critical that the standards for when and how entities may speak about the extent of governmental surveillance be clear, settled, and constitutionally adequate. Further review is warranted.”

On Monday, Elon Musk, owner of X, stated that the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear his company’s lawsuit was “disappointing.”

The Supreme Court did not explain why it rejected X’s appeal.

Social media platforms like X and Facebook are allowed to disclose publicly a broad range of the number of requests for user data made by the federal government but not exact figures.

Then-Twitter sought to include the exact number of times the government requested user information in a six-month period. When the company shared a draft report with the FBI before filing the lawsuit, the agency rejected Twitter’s request to disclose the information publicly, claiming it was classified.

As part of a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump, Department of Justice special counsel Jack Smith received a search warrant for Trump’s X account in 2023. X challenged a nondisclosure order prohibiting the company from notifying Trump about the request for user information. A Washington, D.C., appeals court rejected X’s bid. The social media platform was hit with a $350,000 fine for contempt for failing to meet the deadline to turn over the information on Trump’s account.

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