Legal Staff Writer
On April 6, 2017 social media giant Twitter Inc. sued the Trump Administration in California Federal Court to block a government order requesting the identity of an anonymous account user. The twitter account in question is @ALT_USCIS, who purports to represent federal agency insiders and is in staunch disagreement with the President Trump’s policies, specifically regarding immigration. The account is just one of many unofficial anonymous accounts claiming to represent dissenting government employees; however, @ALT_USCIS has one of the largest followings weighing in at 69,000 users as of April 4, 2017.
Twitter’s suit challenges a Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) summons that ordered Twitter to provide the names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses of the account users speaking out against Trump and his administrative decisions. CBP claimed, vaguely, that they sought the production of this information “in connection with an investigation” but when Twitter contacted the agent listed, he elusively stated that there was an investigation being conducted but did not provide any law or laws he believed were broken. The summons threatened Twitter with legal action if it was non-compliant and also requested that Twitter “not to disclose the existence of this summons for an indefinite period of time.”
Since CBP did not demonstrate that any criminal or civil offense had been committed or that “unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense,” and that obtaining this information was in no way “motivated by a desire to suppress free speech,” Twitter is seeking an official declaration from the courts declaring the summons to be unlawful. The company believes this to be true on the grounds that CBP is acting outside of the agency’s authority under 19 U.S.C 1509 and that they are in violation of the Stored Communications Act, which protects users “digital privacy.” Twitter also stated that the forcible revealing of the user identities would negate their rights to speak freely and anonymously under the first amendment.
Twitter notified the account holders of the government’s effort to acquire their identities. The administrators of the account responded to the news with this tweet:, “If they win here, where will they stop? Who will be next?”
This case is Twitter Inc. v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security et al, case number 3:17-cv-01916, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
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