Last week, Mapbox joined a coalition of startups filing in court to seek greater transparency around government requests for information.
Laws like the PATRIOT Act and Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act allow the government to issue national security letters and other orders that require companies to hand over customer information in connection with terrorism investigations. Unlike normal law enforcement requests, like warrants and normal subpoenas, national security demands generally come with secrecy orders. And according to the government, companies can’t even disclose the existence of these demands except in broad bands. For example, under the government’s authorized disclosure bands, the most specific information a company like Mapbox can disclose is that we received between 0 and 99 national security demands in the past year.
Twitter has sued the government to establish its First Amendment right to report more detailed information about the national security demands it receives, and now a number of others are adding our voices, emphasizing the particular concerns of smaller companies. We believe that reporting national security demands in the broad bands condoned by the government makes it impossible for us to give our users a meaningful sense of how many of these requests we get.
As a matter of fact, Mapbox has never received a national security demand, and we’re telling you that because we believe the government’s disclosure framework is unconstitutional – especially as it applies to companies like us. Since we’ve never gotten a FISA order or national security letter, we aren’t subject to legal process imposing any secrecy obligations on us. The First Amendment guarantees our freedom to speak about that fact.
For more about our law enforcement policies and practices, check out our law enforcement guidelines and our full transparency report (we’re lucky – it’s still pretty simple):
Thanks to Twitter for leading the charge on this court challenge, to our friends at Automattic, CloudFlare, CREDO Mobile, Medium, Reddit, Wickr Foundation, and the Wikimedia Foundation for their efforts with us on this brief, and to Marcia Hofmann – formerly of EFF, now at Zeitgeist Law – for writing the brief.