Supreme Court rejects case involving FBI national security requests to X

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By Carina

In a significant decision on Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear an appeal from X, formerly known as Twitter, which sought to disclose the number of times the FBI had requested user information from the company in the context of national security investigations. 

This legal battle dates back to 2014, when the social media company sued the government during the Obama administration. 

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Legal challenge against government surveillance reporting restrictions

X contended that the government’s actions violated its right to free speech by preventing it from including the number of requests in its biannual “Transparency Report.”

X’s petition to the Supreme Court emphasized the critical need to establish clear and constitutionally adequate standards for discussing the scope of government surveillance. 

They argued that history has shown electronic communications surveillance to be susceptible to government abuse and a contentious topic of public concern.

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Government’s argument and classified information

“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 wrote in their petition.

The government’s arguments in this case were primarily kept under seal due to the presence of classified information. 

Two lower federal courts had previously ruled that the FBI was justified in preventing the publication of this data to safeguard national security.

Federal court upholds surveillance reporting classification

In 2020, a federal district court upheld the government’s classification decision, asserting that no further narrowing of restrictions could be made. 

In March, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed this decision. 

Circuit Judge Daniel Bress, appointed by President Trump, wrote that the government’s redactions of the Transparency Report were “narrowly tailored in support of the compelling government interest in national security.”

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Judge Bress highlights confidentiality in surveillance requests

Judge Bress also emphasized the significance of maintaining confidentiality regarding the number and frequency of intelligence requests made to social media platforms like X. 

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He argued that the government’s classified declarations illustrated the threats faced and the necessity of safeguarding intelligence resources.

“Against the fuller backdrop of these explicit illustrations of the threats that exist and the ways in which the government can best protect its intelligence resources, we are able to appreciate why Twitter’s proposed disclosure would risk making our foreign adversaries aware of what is being surveilled and what is not being surveilled—if anything at all,” he wrote in his decision.

Supreme Court declines to hear appeal on surveillance secrecy

The Supreme Court’s decision not to hear X’s appeal signifies a continuation of the government’s position on maintaining confidentiality in national security matters. 

While the importance of transparency is acknowledged, protecting intelligence resources remains a paramount concern in this ongoing debate between tech companies and national security agencies.

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