Twitter Discloses Warrantless, Potentially Unconstitutional And Illegal FBI Data Requests

The FBI may have overstepped its bounds (again) and acted outside what was made legally permissible by a 2008 Justice Department memo when it asked Twitter to provide information about certain account holders. Twitter received the data requests by way of two national security letters (NSLs) that were served, one in 2015 and the other in 2016, which at the time were protected by gag orders preventing Twitter from notifying the affected account holders or publicly disclosing their existence.

Those gag orders have been lifted and just as other tech companies have done in recent months—most notably Google and Yahoo—Twitter is making public the data requests in an effort to remain transparent. While the letters requested a "large amount of data," Twitter said it provided the bare minimum to comply with federal law and interpretive guidance from the Justice Department.


"We’re encouraged by the lifting of these two gag orders and those recently disclosed by Cloudflare, Google, the Internet Archive, and Yahoo. However, Twitter remains unsatisfied with restrictions on our right to speak more freely about national security requests we may receive. We continue to push for the legal ability to speak more openly on this topic in our lawsuit against the U.S. government, Twitter v. Lynch," Twitter said.

A 2008 Justice Department memo determined that NSLs should be limited to phone billing records. However, these letters indicate that the FBI is essentially ignoring the DoJ's guidance and continues to ask for Internet records that could include sensitive data.

Law enforcement officials have been using NSLs for several decades. The use of NSLs became much more frequent and wide ranging since the USA Patriot Act. Twitter is currently in a legal dispute with the U.S. government over the ability to disclose NSLs.