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FBI request for Twitter account data may have been legal overstep

[JURIST] Following Twitter's [corporate website] release of two warrantless surveillance orders [orders, PDF] published on Friday, some legal experts have said the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) [official website] may have overstepped current legal guidelines for acquiring certain internet data. The two orders released by the social media site, known as national security letters (NSLs), requested [Reuters report] certain data that could include email header data and browsing history - information beyond their reach according to a 2008 US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] legal memorandum [text, PDF] restricting such data retrieval to phone billing records. Twitter says, despite the NSL, the company only provided the FBI with such data as is required under the DOJ memo. This most recent release further supports the belief of some privacy rights groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation [advocacy website], that it is common FBI practice to use NSLs to acquire internet records beyond the 2008 DOJ memo. In addition to Twitter, other internet companies such as Google and Yahoo have also released similar orders from the FBI. The FBI usually issues gag orders on companies when delivering NSLs, which keep these companies from disclosing these warrantless surveillance orders.

The use of communication surveillance continues to be a security rights issue in many countries. Earlier this month the European Commission proposed rules [JURIST report] to bolster electronic communications as well as to "create new possibilities to process communication data and reinforce trust and security." The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled [JURIST report] in December that "[g]eneral and indiscriminate retention" of e-mails and other electronic communications by governments is illegal, in a decision that many believe could create an opportunity for challenges to the UK's Investigatory Powers Bill. A federal judge in November rejected [JURIST report] the New York Police Department's proposed settlement of a lawsuit accusing the department of improperly surveying the Muslim community.

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Paper Chase is JURIST's real-time legal news service, powered by a team of 30 law student reporters and editors led by law professor Bernard Hibbitts at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law. As an educational service, Paper Chase is dedicated to presenting important legal news and materials rapidly, objectively and intelligibly in an accessible format.

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