Update 4/7/17 1:25: According to CNBC, the Trump administration has withdrawn a summons seeking the identity of the Twitter user behind the @ALT_USCIS account, after Twitter sued to block the summons. Twitter then reportedly withdrew their lawsuit.
JUST IN: Twitter withdraws lawsuit filed yesterday regarding government seeking info on anti-Trump account after summons withdrawn.
— CNBC (@CNBC) April 7, 2017
Twitter is suing the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and various federal officials in a attempt to block their efforts to force the unmasking of an anonymous social media account that criticizes the Trump administration, possibly from within. The account in questions is @ALT_USCIS, one of several “alternative agency” accounts that popped up after the administration placed restrictions on various federal agencies. A summons by CBP sought to compel the disclosure of who is behind the account.
These accounts are purportedly run by current or former agency employees speaking their mind about what the administration is doing. The @ALT_USCIS account refers to itself Alt Immigration and “Immigration resistance,” and clarifies in its description that it does not express the views of DHS or USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of DHS).
In a lawsuit filed in federal court on Thursday, Twitter claims that anonymity is vital in this case, because revealing the identity of the user would have “a grave chilling effect” on not only that account, but other accounts that criticize government policies. Twitter notes that “pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement” has been recognized by the Supreme Court as having “extraordinary value.” Without evidence that a civil or criminal wrongdoing was committed, Twitter argues, the CBP summons is unlawful, violating the First Amendment right to free speech.
On top of that, Twitter claims that the statute that the federal government cited in their summons doesn’t even apply here. CBP issued their summons under 19 U.S.C. § 1509, which Twitter argues only allows summonses related to importation of merchandise, which is not at issue in this case.
Twitter also notes in their complaint that CBP faxed their summons on March 14, 2017, yet the summons itself ordered Twitter to produce records no later than March 13. The summons also allegedly requested that Twitter not disclose the existence of the summons.
The ACLU is now also getting involved, offering to assist Twitter in the case.
We’re glad Twitter is pushing back. We’ll be going to court to defend this user’s right to anonymous speech. https://t.co/tqj5XrNvgn
— ACLU National (@ACLU) April 6, 2017
Representatives from both DHS and CBP told LawNewz.com that they do not comment on pending litigation.
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