Twitter, Inc. v. Holder et al

Filing 261

ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE: DISCLOSURE OF DECLARATION SUBMITTED IN CAMERA Government Response due by 1/18/2019. Plaintiff opposition by 1/25/2019. Reply by 2/1/19. (See Dkt 250 .) Signed by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers on 1/2/2019. (ygrlc1S, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 1/2/2019)

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Case 4:14-cv-04480-YGR Document 261 Filed 01/02/19 Page 1 of 4 1 2 3 4 5 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 6 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 7 8 TWITTER, INC., Case No. 14-cv-04480-YGR Plaintiff, 9 ORDER TO SHOW CAUSE RE: DISCLOSURE OF DECLARATION SUBMITTED IN CAMERA v. 10 11 MATTHEW G. WHITAKER, ET AL., Dkt. No. 250, 256 United States District Court Northern District of California Defendants. 12 13 TO DEFENDANTS MATTHEW G. WHITAKER, ET AL.: 14 YOU ARE HEREBY ORDERED TO SHOW CAUSE why you should not be compelled to disclose to 15 16 plaintiff’s counsel Lee H. Rubin the declaration of Michael Steinbach, former FBI Executive Assistant Director, submitted in camera to the Court in connection with defendants’ motion for 17 summary judgment. 18 On December 5, 2018, plaintiff Twitter, Inc. filed its Request that its Counsel Receive 19 Access to the Classified Steinbach Declaration Lodged With the Court on November 22, 2016. 20 21 22 23 (Dkt. No. 250, [“the Request”].) In the Request, Twitter seeks an order granting its counsel access to the declaration of Michael Steinbach, former Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”) Executive Assistant Director1 previously lodged with the Court in camera, in connection with defendants’ motion for summary judgment (Dkt. No. 145).2 24 25 26 27 28 1 Mr. Steinbach was replaced as Executive Assistant Director of the National Security Branch of the Federal Bureau of Investigation by Carl Ghattas. (See Dkt. No. 175, 175-1.) Twitter’s lead counsel Lee H. Rubin has had his security clearance “favorably adjudicated” by the FBI as of September 17, 2018. (Dkt. No. 250-1, Rubin Decl. Exh. A.) Twitter previously provided authority for such access in its Motion for an Order Directing Defendants to Initiate Expedited Security Clearance. (Dkt. No. 124, [“Motion to Expedite”].) 2 Case 4:14-cv-04480-YGR Document 261 Filed 01/02/19 Page 2 of 4 1 The Government defendants filed their response to the Request, contending that Twitter 2 could not have access to the classified version of the Steinbach Declaration because, despite the 3 appropriate security clearance, Twitter’s counsel had not been determined by the FBI to have a 4 “need to know” the information therein. (Dkt. No. 256.) The Government contends: 5 6 7 8 [t]he declaration encompasses far more sensitive national security information than an individual recipient of national security process might know or have reason to learn. The declaration contains Sensitive Compartmented Information, and is classified at the TOP SECRET level. Disclosure of such information reasonably could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security. (Id. at 1, citing Dkt. No. 175-1, ¶ 17 [Decl. of EAD Ghattas filed August 8, 2017].) 9 As the Court previously found, the in camera declaration of Michael Steinbach was 10 insufficient to establish that national security harms could reasonably be expected to result from United States District Court Northern District of California 11 12 13 disclosure of Twitter’s Draft Transparency Report, and thus to support the Government’s decision that the information therein was properly determined to be “classified.” (Dkt. No. 172 at 17-18.) Steinbach “fail[ed] to provide sufficient details indicating that the decision to classify the 14 information in the Draft Transparency Report was based on anything more specific than the 15 16 reporting bands in section 1874 and the FBI’s position that more granular information ‘could be expected to harm national security.’” (Id. at 17.) Steinbach’s declaration relied on a “generic, and 17 seemingly boilerplate, description of the mosaic theory and a broad brush concern that the 18 information at issue will make more difficult the complications associated with intelligence 19 20 gathering in the internet age.” (Id. at 18.) The Court found the Steinbach declaration failed to establish the redacted information in Twitter’s Draft Transparency Report was properly classified 21 since the declaration did not demonstrate that disclosure of the information would present a grave 22 and serious threat of damage to national security to satisfy strict scrutiny. (Id. at 2.) Thus, the 23 24 Court denied the Government’s motion for summary judgment without prejudice “to a renewed motion upon a more fulsome record.” (Id. at 21.)3 25 26 27 28 In the Court’s July 6, 2017 Order denying defendants’ motion for summary judgment, the Court also ordered that defendants “move forward on granting Twitter’s lead counsel, Andrew J. Pincus and Lee H. Rubin, security clearances that would permit review of relevant classified materials in this matter.” (Dkt. No. 172 at 21.) 3 2 Case 4:14-cv-04480-YGR Document 261 Filed 01/02/19 Page 3 of 4 1 Shortly thereafter, upon issuance of the Ninth Circuit’s decision in In re National Security 2 Letter, 863 F.3d 1110 (9th Cir. 2017) (“In re NSL”), the Government renewed its motion for 3 summary judgment. The Court found no reconsideration of the summary judgment denial was 4 warranted since the In re NSL decision supported the Court’s determination that a content-based 5 challenge, as here, was subject to strict scrutiny and required consideration of the same factors the 6 Court had analyzed in determining that the Government’s showing fell short of that standard. 7 (Dkt. No. 186 at 6-7, 10.) The Court reiterated that the Steinbach declaration had failed to support 8 the classification decision. (Id. at 7.)4 9 Now, the Government asserts that the Steinbach declaration itself contains sensitive national security information and its disclosure, even to a person with the appropriate security 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 10 clearance, “can reasonably be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national 12 security.” (Dkt. No. 256 at 2.) Given the Court’s prior findings regarding the insufficiency of the 13 Steinbach declaration and the “generic . . . seemingly boilerplate” information therein, the 14 Government’s argument fails to persuade. 15 Further, the Government’s position that the Court may “in no event” grant Twitter access 16 to information in this action that the Government has deemed classified (Dkt. No. 256 at 10) 17 ignores the Court’s role in determining whether any assertion of the common law state secrets 18 privilege5, or of classification itself, is well-founded. “Judicial control over the evidence in a case 19 cannot be abdicated to the caprice of executive officers.” United States v. Reynolds, 345 U.S. 1, 20 9–10 (1953). “[T]he [state secrets] privilege may not be used to shield any material not strictly 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4 The Court also noted, in its Order Denying Reconsideration, that the Government had filed an additional declaration in support of reconsideration in which Carl Ghattas, the successor to Michael Steinbach as Executive Assistant Director, stated that he had reviewed Steinbach’s declaration and concurred with the conclusions therein regarding the need for classification. The Court found that additional declaration did not support the Government’s classification decision. (Id. at 7.) 5 The Supreme Court has indicated that the state secrets privilege is a product of federal common law. See Reynolds, 345 U.S. at 6–7 and n. 9. see also In re Nat'l Sec. Agency Telecommunications Records Litig., 564 F. Supp. 2d 1109, 1119, 1123 (N.D. Cal. 2008) (“Reynolds itself, holding that the state secrets privilege is part of the federal common law, leaves little room for defendants’ argument that the state secrets privilege is actually rooted in the Constitution.”). 3 Case 4:14-cv-04480-YGR Document 261 Filed 01/02/19 Page 4 of 4 necessary to prevent injury to national security; and, whenever possible, sensitive information 2 must be disentangled from nonsensitive information to allow for the release of the latter.” 3 Ellsberg v. Mitchell, 709 F.2d 51, 57 (D.C. Cir. 1983). “[T]o ensure that the state secrets privilege 4 is asserted no more frequently and sweepingly than necessary, it is essential that the courts 5 continue critically to examine instances of its invocation.” Id. at 58. The process set forth by the 6 Supreme Court in Reynolds “places on the court a special burden to assure itself that an 7 appropriate balance is struck between protecting national security matters and preserving an open 8 court system.” Al-Haramain Islamic Found., Inc. v. Bush, 507 F.3d 1190, 1203 (9th Cir. 2007). 9 “[A]n executive decision to classify information is insufficient to establish that the information is 10 privileged.” Mohamed v. Jeppesen Dataplan, Inc., 614 F.3d 1070, 1082 (9th Cir. 2010) en banc 11 United States District Court Northern District of California 1 (emphasis in original). 12 13 The Government is ordered to file a written response to this Order to Show Cause no later than January 18, 2019. 14 Twitter shall file a written response no later than January 25, 2019. 15 The Government may file a reply no later than February 1, 2019. 16 The Government shall indicate whether oral argument is requested. If so, a hearing on this 17 Order to Show Cause shall be set for Friday, February 15, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. The Government 18 has indicated that it initiated an agency review process concerning its intention to assert the state 19 secrets privilege in connection with the Steinbach Declaration, and that such process would take 20 60-90 days. Should that review process be completed prior to the February 15, 2019 hearing but 21 after the completion of briefing, the Government shall file a status report so indicating. 22 23 24 25 IT IS SO ORDERED. Dated: January 2, 2019 ______________________________________ YVONNE GONZALEZ ROGERS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE 26 27 28 4

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