When it comes to PRISM, whither Twitter? #mumstheword

By SB Anderson
Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo visits with ASNE in Washington (Photo from C-SPAN video).

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo joined us for lunch on Wednesday at the American Society of News Editors conference in Washington and talked about journalism and its intersection with Twitter (and vice-versa); his company and its culture; privacy; and a few other topics.

But when it came to one hot topic in DC of late and  why Twitter wasn’t included on the now-famous PowerPoint slide about companies the NSA has relationships with for the top-secret PRISM user data collection program, Costolo pretty much had precisely 140 characters of nothing specific to say. With a hashtag of #mumstheword.

Asked  by Marty Baron of the Washington Post whether Twitter was “invited or instructed by the federal government to participate in this program, whether you chose to turn the government down, and if you did that based on legal objections, what were those legal objections,” Costolo wouldn’t take the bait.

He did, however, say Twitter is very aggressive and takes a “principled approach” when it comes to pushing back against government requests for large amounts of user data.

“When we get specific, pointed legal requests that are legally valid. . . we respond to them,” he said in reply to Baron’s question. “When we receive general requests that we feel are overly broad, not valid legal requests, we push back on those. I think it’s fair to say as has been reported in other cases like Wikileaks, we will spend time and energy and money to defend out users’ rights to be informed about the information that is being requested about them. . . That’s really all i can say about it.”

Earlier in his visit, interviewer Cecilia Kang of the Washington Post said, “It feels like we’re sort of dancing around this thing that’s all in caps called PRISM. You can’t talk so much about it.  . . .  Does it bother you you can’t talk more about your relationship with the government and these sorts of requests?”

His repsonse was much the same as what he told Baron.

He did note that he has talked publicly about a rule in the UK that makes it illegal to even disclose there’s an injunction in some situations, and called such rules “Kafkaesque. . . . Those kinds of things are generally disturbing and we have called for and would love to see more transparency around these types of requests.”

I’ve extracted the PRISM-related discussion from the hourlong Costolo chat (but the content isn’t available yet for embedding). View it here: