Social Media Companies Fight Back Against Government Privacy Invasions

Twitter filed suit to publish a complete transparency report and Facebook told the DEA to stop impersonating its users.


Ever since the NSA surveillance programs like PRISM came to light, tech companies have been working hard to try and mitigate the damage, secure their networks and restore trust among users. Now, some networks are taking legal action to fight back against government agents on their platforms.

Twitter’s VP of legal Ben Lee announced on the company blog that the service was filing lawsuits against the FBI and the Department of Justice in an attempt to fully release a transparency report. In July, Twitter was unable to release its transparency report in its entirety because the DOJ did not respond to the company’s requests for clarification of certain laws.

The lawsuit Twitter filed will not stop government surveillance, but it will allow the company to release as much data as possible in its transparency reports. This could give users the tools they need to pressure government representatives into changing the laws that allow such broad surveillance.

At the same time, the Electronic Frontier Foundation is bringing National Security Letters (NSLs) to the Ninth Circuit Court of California. NSLs are legal letters issued by the FBI that allow the government to conduct warrantless surveillance.

Facebook staff have also sent an open letter to the DEA demanding that the agency stop creating fake profiles on the network. A Facebook user alleged that after she was arrested, the DEA created a fake profile on Facebook using her name and pictures that were taken from her cellphone.

Facebook chief security officer Joe Sullivan wrote in a letter:

We regard DEA’s conduct to be a knowing and serious breach of Facebook’s terms and policies. Using Facebook to impersonate others abuses that trust and makes people feel less safe and secure when using our services. Indeed, as we have observed at Facebook, such deceptive actions are often used to further harmful conduct, such as trolling, hate speech, scams and bullying and even domestic violence.

Facebook’s letter to the DEA may not be legally binding, but there are lawsuits in play that could change social networking and government policy. Users are pushing back against surveillance by seeking refuge in anonymous apps or encrypted services, and tech companies seem to be doing whatever they can to claw back protections for users.

Publish date: October 22, 2014 © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT