Feds ordered Twitter to reveal person behind anti-Trump account, lawsuit says

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07 April, 2017

Twitter, like other social media companies, frequently receives requests from law enforcement agencies to remove content or for more information about specific accounts. A representative for the CBP said it does not comment on pending litigation.

"The rights of free speech afforded Twitter's users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the US Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech", the lawsuit says.

Following Trump's inauguration in January, anonymous Twitter feeds that borrowed the names and logos of more than a dozen US government agencies appeared to challenge the president's views on climate change and other issues. There is no clear evidence that the user or users behind the account are actually employees of this agency, and it is just one of a number of "alternative" government-related accounts that have popped up in protest to the Trump administration. But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings.

This particular account is an alternative to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, an agency within the DHS.

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On March 14 Twitter received a CBP summons "demanding that Twitter provide them records that would unmask, or likely lead to unmasking, the identity of the person (s) responsible for the @ALT_USCIS account", according to the suit, which describes the summons as unlawful. And even if Defendants could otherwise demonstrate an appropriate basis for impairing the First Amendment interests of Twitter and its users, they certainly may not do so using the particular investigatory tool employed here-which Congress authorized exclusively to ensure compliance with federal laws concerning imported merchandise-because it is apparent that whatever investigation Defendants are conducting here does not pertain to imported merchandise.

"The goal of this request appears to be, and the effect of Twitter's complying with it likely would be, to enable or help to enable Defendants to pierce the anonymity of the person or persons who established and use the @ALT_USCIS account", the 25-page lawsuit states.

"The Supreme Court has long recognized the extraordinary value of the kind of speech emanating from these accounts - pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement", Twitter writes in its complaint. The social media platform is apparently willing to go up against the feds in court in order to protect its users' privacy. The Verge reported that the person or people behind the account may be part of the federal government's immigration and customs teams.


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