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Feds Seek to Dismiss Twitter's First Amendment Lawsuit

The Justice Department is seeking the dismissal of Twitter's lawsuit in which the social-media firm is challenging restrictions on revealing information about national security requests for user data, the Washington Post's Ellen Nakashima reports: "At issue is a letter issued in January 2014 by the Justice Department relaxing limits for companies wishing to disclose the number of such requests they receive. Twitter, which was not among the five firms that negotiated the new limits with the department, thought they were still too strict." The government says that the letter does not restrict Twitter's free expression.

Twitter Seeks Constitutional Right to Inform When 'It Has Not Received' Surveillance Requests

When Twitter filed its First Amendment lawsuit this week challenging the government gag on disclosing government surveillance requests to its customers, the company did so to establish "a constitutional right to truthfully inform its customers and the broader public that it has not received particular types of surveillance requests. In other words, Twitter is seeking judicial endorsement of its right to publish a 'warrant canary,'" Brett Max Kaufman writes in Just Security. According to Kaufman, the Electronic Frontier defines a warrant canary as a "'regularly published statement that a service provider has not received legal process that it would be prohibited from saying it had received. Once a service provider does receive legal process, the speech prohibition goes into place, and the canary statement is removed,' thereby informing the public that the process has been received."

The reason why Twitter is fighting against government compulson to remain silent and to report when it has not received surveillance requests is that the government has taken the position that Twitter is bound by a settlement reached with other tech companies about reporting surveillance requests even though it did not sign onto the accord, Kaufman said.

Twitter Challenges 'Prior Restraint' on Disclosing Government Surveillance

Twitter has filed a lawsuit challenging the federal government's gag order restricting the extent the social media company can reveal the scope of government surveillance on its service, Ars Technica's David Kravets reports. Twitter argues that it faces an unconstitutional prior restraint on its speech because of the gag order: "'Twitter’s ability to respond to government statements about national security surveillance activities and to discuss the actual surveillance of Twitter users is being unconstitutionally restricted by statutes that prohibit and even criminalize a service provider's disclosure of the number of national security letters (“NSLs”) and court orders issued pursuant to FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] that it has received, if any.'"

New York Times v. Sullivan Still Going Strong to Protect Media in the Digital Age

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of the New York Times v. Sullivan ruling, which led to greater protections for the media from being sued for defamation by public officials and public figures like celebrities, the Associated Press says. The "case applies equally to new media such as Twitter, Facebook and blogs," AP further reports. First Amendment lawyer Bruce W. Sanford told AP that there may be fewer libel cases because the Sullivan rule is widely accepted and because there's a greater opportunity to respond to untruths in the digital world.

Courtney Love's Twibel Verdict Important For First Amendment Rights

The first "Twibel" verdict in the United States (or the first defamation verdict involving a tweet) resulted in a defense verdict for Courtney Love. An On the Media segment said the case "could become the social media equivalent of New York Times v. Sullivan," and Gigaom notes "the Love decision is significant because it comes in contrast to legal developments in the U.K., which threaten to chill the use of Twitter in that country. In October, for instance, a U.K. man agreed to pay $25,000 for retweeting a false statement, saying 'From my own experience, I am able to warn others of the dangers of retweeting.'" But Gigaom also noted that the decision leaves unsettled whether tweets should get more protection than other forms of online expression and if it should be accepted that tweets are inherently opinion.

Love tweeted: "@noozjunkie I was fucking devestated [sic] when Rhonda J. Holmes esq. of san diego was bought off @FairNewsSpears perhaps you can get a quote." The legal standards were high in the case because Rhonda Holmes was a limited-purpose public figure. Holmes had to prove by clear and convincing evidence that Love knew the message was false or doubted the truth of her tweet.

Some Day Twitter Might Pay Income Taxes Too

As Twitter's initial public offering opened this week, The New York Times' DealBook reports that Twitter's "biggest potential tax shelter is its history of losing money. Like most growth companies, Twitter has accumulated a lot of operating losses. These losses, in theory, can be carried forward as net operating losses to offset future taxable income. But investors should not count on it." The net operating losses can't be carried forward as Twitter's ownership changes when "founders, venture capitalists and later-stage investors" sell their interests, the NYT reports.


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