One of the most frustrating things about the NSA and FBI's domestic spying practices is that we don't really know how far their programs go. Maybe it's not as bad as we all think it is, but the truth is it's probably worse. We just don't know. The NSA might not even know!
Those government agencies obviously have their reasons for keeping their spying programs under wraps, but the last time I checked, we live in a democracy of the people, for the people and by the people. We can't protect our Constitutional rights when we're not even allowed to know when they're being trampled on.
That's why Twitter is suing the federal government. It wants you to know exactly how much information the FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) courts and national security letters compel it to hand over.
Many tech giants that collect our personal info are in the same boat. Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Yahoo and others are on record as being against these types of secret requests for information, but the laws force them to turn over certain information under FISA or national security letters.
Right now, Twitter is only allowed to publicly release a range of the number of FISA requests and national security letters it receives. Let's say Twitter recieved no requests. It would be required to report it received between "0 and 999" requests. Twitter says it deserves the right to be completely transparent with its users over what the government is demanding to know:
As part of our latest transparency report released in July, we described how we were being prohibited from reporting on the actual scope of surveillance of Twitter users by the U.S. government. 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.
This is essentially a First Amendment case more than a right-to-privacy case. Twitter is arguing that is Constitutionally guaranteed the right to disclose this information. I happen to agree with Twitter. It's bad enough that the government can force private information out of companies like Twitter and Google. It's even worse that we don't know how much information that is.