Twitter Sues Gov’t After Demand To Reveal Identities Behind Critical Account

The new headquarters building of Twitter in downtown San Francisco, California on January 2, 2014. Photo Credit: Kristoffer Tripplaar/ Sipa USA
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Twitter is suing the federal government over its demand that the social media company reveal who’s behind an account critical of the Trump administration.

Reuters first reported the lawsuit Thursday.

The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, alleges that the Department of Homeland Security, and within it U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other individuals, would violate the rights of the Twitters users behind the @ALT_USCIS account by demanding that Twitter unmask their real identities.

USCIS is an acronym United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, though the Twitter account alternatively calls itself the “Immigration resistance.”

“Alt” accounts for various government agencies began sprouting up on the social media site following reports that the Trump administration had ordered the National Parks Service to stop tweeting after some unflattering commentary about Trump’s inaugural crowd size. Individual park accounts also tweeted facts about climate change.

Some “alt” accounts purport to publish the unofficial or anonymous sentiments of government employees. @ALT_USCIS notes on its Twitter page: “Not the views of DHS or USCIS.”

The account, created on Jan. 26, tweets criticisms of the government:

Twitter said in its complaint that a Customs and Border Protection agent issued an administrative summons on March 14 demanding that it provide “records that would unmask,” or lead to the unmasking of, the identities of those behind @ALT_USCIS. BuzzFeed and The Intercept have published excerpts of the summons.

“The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech,” Twitter’s complaint reads in part.

“In these circumstances,” it continued, “defendants cannot compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of twitter and its users.”

“But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings.”

The account itself responded to early reporting on the lawsuit by pinning the First Amendment to the top of its page and noting that, according to Twitter, the federal government demanded its users’ information be produced the day before a formal request was actually made:

Read Twitter’s complaint below, via BuzzFeed’s Chris Geidner:

This post has been updated.

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