The Government is Silencing Twitter and Yahoo, and It Won't Tell Us Why

The government is using shaky legal arguments to silence major Internet companies without giving them – or the public – the opportunity to respond. In three separate recent cases, the government has sent a grand jury subpoena to Yahoo or Twitter and requested a gag order from a magistrate judge, attempting to bar these tech companies from informing the customers in question. To make matters worse, the government won't disclose its reasoning for requesting the gag, effectively shutting the public out of the courthouse without any explanation.

The ACLU filed a motion last night seeking to represent the public's interest in open court proceedings when the government seeks gag orders on Internet companies. We know about the three cases only because the magistrate judge pushed back on the government, inviting Yahoo and Twitter to weigh in and ordering the government to make its legal arguments public. The government appealed those orders to a district court, where the judge ordered the appeals sealed. The ACLU is now moving to intervene in the district court for the purpose of opening these gag order proceedings to public scrutiny. In a democracy, if your government is going to gag someone from speaking, it should publicly explain why.

The federal government has an awesome array of tools and technologies in its investigative arsenal, and it often goes to great lengths to shield its tactics from outside scrutiny. Not only does this secrecy prevent people from challenging surveillance used against them, but it also means that elected officials can't openly debate the underlying policies, and communities can't discuss their government's actions.

Traditionally, gag order applications are considered ex parte – meaning with only the government's argument on the record before the court. However, Magistrate Judge Facciola noted that the government's request in this case raised controversial legal questions, and so invited Twitter and Yahoo to respond. (In one case, the government withdrew its gag order application after Judge Facciola invited Twitter's participation.) He also ordered the government file public copies of its gag order applications with limited redactions.

We are now asking to unseal the documents in these cases, and expressing support for Judge Facciola's invitation for responsive briefing from Twitter and Yahoo. As we say in our filing:

The ACLU is troubled, as the Court should be, by the government's overuse of gag orders to prevent public and judicial scrutiny of its invasions of citizens' privacy. Transparency concerning judicial documents like the ones at issue ensures fairness, decreases bias, improves public perception of the justice system, and enhances the chances that the resulting orders will be well-justified and narrowly tailored. These interests are particularly acute where, as here, the government relies on a controversial statutory authority affecting the First Amendment rights of private individuals and where at least one court has openly questioned the applicability of that authority.

If the government is going to take extraordinary measures to silence the companies we rely on daily, then it should be prepared to explain itself.

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Anonymous

All this hostility toward almost every government activity surprises me, bewilders me because all I ever hear from Republican family members and friends is that "the ACLU is a liberal organization, they don't care about conservatives at all and they support only Democrat Administrations."
Well obviously these people NEVer bother to read any of the articles because we're IN a Democratic Administration NOW, but almost no day can pass where the Administration ISN'T under scrutiny so to speak or attack, to say for sure.

I grew up in a Republican family, used to be more Republican than I am now and still have family and friends who think they're 100% Republican. Nobody seems to have put two brain cells together to work out that the Republican Party disappeared when corporations magically became humans (people) and that the people trying to ramrod everything into existence these days have never been conservative.
Someone who's probably 20 years older than I am remembers the Koch brothers' dad; this guy told me that their dad called Eisenhower a Communist and was a member of the John Birch Society. That whole damn family have NEVer been Republican and the Republican party disappeared the day they decided they were going to browbeat, badger and bully all the people in government into doing their bidding; or becoming their slaves.
How do you know they don't have their filthy fingers in THIS situation too? How do you know that it's ONLY the government doing it.

When the government shut down for a week, Bernie Sanders (Independent Senator from Vermont) got on national television and outed the Koch brothers for what they've been doing since 2010, who in turn denied everything - which is the only way they demonstrated they were Republican - and the world moved on, but not without them going right back to their misbehaving ways. A few months after that the water in the city I lived in was poisoned because of their industries, which they also denied doing and never went to jail for it. They've been doing all kinds of ridiculous crap.
One time I asked a question on a web site, whose goal is to let you ask questions, wondering "Why are the Koch brothers so upset about ACA?"
I pointed out what Bernie Sanders said, that "they can afford the best health care in the world for them and their families" which explained why I asked the question. I left out the part where he called their behavior concerning ACA "obscene" because I didn't think I'd be able to get away with making that observation.
But my question was still deleted 4 hours after I asked it. No explanation for why, and no telling me they did. I found out by seeing the word 'Deleted' next to my question.
I suspect I won't even be able to mention it here but I don't care because I have the feeling someone somewhere will see it even if it has to be deleted and they'll know what I'm talking about with those brothers.

Besides that, their industries poisoned my water. I don't care WHAT negative stuff happens to them after that. They were never apologetic and their legal counsel lied through his fool teeth after it happened, saying nobody was hurt because I guess he wasn't counting boils on the skin or all the dead marine life or future responses to the chemical being unknown or mental health issues that precipitate out of such a profound event.
I won't know for years if what was in our water affected us even at a low level. They don't know what its presence in the water can do in the long term, so we've been sentenced to wait and try not to worry about what may happen from it.
For not being sorry that this happened, I hope the bully brothers pass from this life in their OWN pain and that they feel every single thing they've ever done to anybody, not giving a tinker's damn that they did.

Anonymous

The Obama administration is the most open and transparent administration in history. Not.

Anonymous

Why have you not taken this same action in Dzhokhar Tsarnaev's case where bogus orders fly and even orders that are not sealed regarding the numerous sealed motions are blocked from the public in direct contrast to the bogus order in docket # 100?

NostraThomas

More of that legendary Obama administration transparency...

Anonymous

I have no problem with the government silencing Yahoo. They suck.

Anonymous

As ever, government ( any ), are the enemy.

Anonymous

As ever, government (any), are the enemy.

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