Twitter Challenge to National Security Probes Moves Forward

A federal judge on Tuesday weighed the Obama administration's attempt to sidetrack Twitter's legal challenge to the government's tight lid on national security investigations that reach into the tech industry.

After a lengthy hearing, U.S. District Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers indicated she would rule later in the case, which she signaled raised tough new legal questions pitting the government's need to protect the secrecy of national security probes against the free speech rights of Internet titans such as Twitter.

"We're almost in relatively new ground in these cases, aren't we?" the judge asked a U.S. Justice Department lawyer at one point.

The Justice Department has moved to quickly dismiss much of the case, arguing that while the government "supports a policy of appropriate transparency," Twitter's demands could compromise classified national security information.

Twitter's lawsuit, filed in San Francisco federal court last October, alleges that top Justice Department officials, including FBI brass, have rejected the company's request to fully reveal how much the government is seeking through its national security investigations.

Five major companies -- Apple, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and LinkedIn -- last year reached a settlement that allowed them to disclose some level of information in twice-a-year "transparency reports," but Twitter argues that the limits violate free speech rights and are unconstitutional.

Twitter is going further than the rest of the tech industry, seeking broader rights to expose how much government surveillance, if any, is going on in the Twitterverse.

Twitter's legal salvo involves both national security letters sent by the FBI that forbid the release of information and National Security Agency demands for Internet user data.

Twitter is backed in the case by a host of Internet and media companies, ranging from Wikipedia and BuzzFeed to the Washington Post.

In many respects, Twitter's primary legal argument is already under consideration in a federal appeals court, which is reviewing...

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