Watchdog Sues FBI Over Denial of ‘Twitter Files’ Records Requests

Watchdog Sues FBI Over Denial of ‘Twitter Files’ Records Requests

  • December 1, 2023
The FBI Twitter Files saga continues in court after the agency denies PPT’s appeals

Today, ethics watchdog Protect the Public’s Trust announced litigation against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for denying a series of records requests related to involvement of FBI officials in the censorship of American citizens as revealed in the Twitter Files exposés. Despite the heightened level of public interest in these records the FBI refused to comply, even though records available in the public domain acknowledge the existence of these documents.

In December 2022, journalists began reporting on the Twitter Files, which consisted of thousands of internal documents and discussions involving Twitter employees about content moderation decisions. These communications detailed conversations in which federal government officials were advising, and in some cases demanding, Twitter to “shadow ban,” censor, and/or disable certain accounts under the guise of “combatting disinformation.”

In March, PPT submitted a series of records requests to shed light on the conversations occurring between Twitter employees and FBI officials. Information already in the public domain revealed FBI agent Elvis Chan acknowledged meeting and communicating with Yoel Roth, head of Trust and Safety at Twitter. Just two weeks later, the FBI denied PPT’s requests mischaracterizing them as requests for “records on one or more third party individuals.” But the requests clearly sought records of communications between a government agency and a third-party individual – a common records request and subject to release under FOIA. PPT filed administrative appeals of the decision on these requests.

One by one, the FBI denied PPT’s appeals, stating:

I am affirming the FBI’s action on your request . . . Confirming or denying the existence of such records, including law enforcement records, concerning a third-party individual would constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of personal privacy, and could reasonably be expected to constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.

There is minimal, if any, privacy interest in the content of the requested records. Twitter employees and FBI officials have publicly acknowledged that they have communicated in the past. Conversely, the public’s interest in understanding to what extent FBI officials may have inappropriately used their authority to undermine a blockbuster news story about a Presidential candidate days before a national election is very strong.

“The FBI has gone to great lengths to keep these documents out of view,” Michael Chamberlain, Director of Protect the Public’s Trust said. “Just one portion of the Twitter files garnered 56 million views. Undoubtedly, there is tremendous public interest in the disclosure of these records. The public knows there are responsive communications, and it even knows who was communicating in some cases. Stonewalling PPT’s FOIA requests only furthers the public’s suspicions that the FBI’s law enforcement authorities were in fact being used for not only nefarious but partisan purposes.”