Feds, Seeking Twitter Account Data, Get Lawsuit Instead
Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Thursday to stop federal agencies from compelling the company to hand over information about an anti-Trump account.
The suit, which lists the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its secretary John Kelly among the defendants, claims that DHS is abusing its power by trying to unmask the identity of the person behind the @ALT_uscis account.
The account is one of many created after President Donald Trump took office, purporting to be owned by current or former employees of federal agencies who often send tweets to speak out anonymously against the Trump administration. Twitter received an administrative summons in March from the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency requesting records that would reveal the identity of the @ALT_uscis account holder, according to the lawsuit.
Twitter's lawyers wrote that the company is refusing to give up that information because "permitting CBP to pierce the pseudonym of the @ALT_uscis account would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of that account in particular and on the many other 'alternative agency' accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government policies."
The CBP summons did not indicate that the any laws had been broken, nor did the agency obtain a court order to prevent Twitter from notifying the @ALT_uscis account holder about the request for information, according to the lawsuit. Twitter said that it informed the account holder on April 4, and told CBP that its request infringes on the First Amendment rights of the company and its users.
A DHS spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Twitter, like other social media companies, frequently receives requests from law enforcement agencies to remove content or for more information about specific accounts. During the second half of last year, the company received 2,304 such requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies, and offered up information for 82 percent of them, according to its latest transparency report.