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Twitter Adds Legal Muscle in Suit Over Surveillance Disclosures

3 March 2016
The Recorder

Twitter Inc. has added firepower to its legal team in a suit challenging limits on what companies can divulge about surveillance requests in national security investigations.

Mayer Brown partner Andrew Pincus, a top appellate advocate who has argued 25 cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, entered an appearance for Twitter on Wednesday. Palo Alto partners Lee Rubin and Donald Falk will also represent the social-media company. They join a team from Perkins Coie that includes Bay Area intellectual and privacy partner James Snell; the firm's Seattle-based appellate chief, Eric Miller; and Washington, D.C.-based privacy law expert Michael Sussman.

Under the current framework, companies can provide aggregate disclosures about their compliance with federal surveillance orders. For instance, companies such as Twitter and Facebook can share the total number of customer accounts subject to orders from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, but only in bands of 1,000.

Twitter's lawyers are pushing for more transparency and contend that the blanket ban on more specific disclosures, with no expiration date, "results in chilling and prohibiting far more speech than the Constitution tolerates."

Twitter sued the government in October 2014 after being told that a draft of the company's transparency report couldn't be released because it contained classified information.

U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers dismissed Twitter's suit as moot in late 2015, following passage of the USA Freedom Act, but gave the company a chance to amend its claims.

In its amended complaint, Twitter's lawyers emphasize the unlimited duration of the government's gag order. "The interest in secrecy does not last forever, and at some point, release of information about those orders will no longer harm national security," the company states in its complaint.

A hearing on the government's motion to dismiss is set for March 15.

Reprinted with permission from the March 3, 2016 edition of The Recorder © 2016 ALM Properties, Inc. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited.

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