US Supreme Court rejects X Corp’s surveillance disclosure challenge

US Supreme Court rejects X Corp's surveillance disclosure challenge

The US Supreme Court on Monday denied Elon Musk’s X Corp’s request to consider whether the social media company, formerly known as Twitter, can publicly disclose how frequently federal law enforcement seeks information about users for national security investigations.

The justices declined to hear X’s appeal of a lower court’s decision that the FBI’s restrictions on what the company could say publicly about the investigations did not violate its First Amendment free speech rights.

X had stated that it was “critical” for the justices to hear the case in order to establish clear standards for when and how tech companies can respond to government requests for confidential information about their users for surveillance purposes.

“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’s attorneys wrote in their petition to the Supreme Court

Musk in a post on X called it “disappointing that the Supreme Court declined to hear this matter.” The long-running lawsuit was filed in 2014, long before Musk acquired Twitter in 2022, after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden leaked information in 2013 about the extent of U.S. spying and surveillance efforts.

In response to the public outcry over the revelations from Snowden’s leaks, the U.S. government at the request of tech companies – including Alphabet’s Google, Microsoft , Twitter and Facebook-owner Meta Platforms – agreed to relax restrictions on what they could reveal about data that the government had sought in connection with national security probes.

The revised policy, announced in 2014, allowed companies to disclose in broad ranges rather than exact figures how frequently they received national security-related requests for information.

In 2015, Congress passed legislation allowing companies to disclose limited information about how frequently they received so-called national security letters and orders under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which sought user data. However, they could only do so in broad ranges, not exact figures.

Companies may disclose government data demands in increments of 100 or 1,000, depending on the type of report they publish.

In its lawsuit, Twitter, as X was then known, stated that it wanted to go even further and disclose the exact number of times the government served it with national-security orders requesting information in the previous six months.

It had submitted a draft report to the FBI before suing to do just that, but the FBI determined that the information in the report was classified and could not be publicly released.

A trial judge dismissed Twitter’s lawsuit, and a three-judge panel of the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision in March 2023, stating that the “government’s restriction on Twitter’s speech is narrowly tailored in support of a compelling government interest.

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