Admin Tries to Unmask Anti-Trump Twitter Account, Twitter Fires Back With a Lawsuit

WASHINGTON April 6, 2017—As Donald Trump baselessly accuses former national security advisor Susan Rice of a “crime” for requesting the unmasking of Trump associates caught up in surveillance of foreign operatives, his administration is attempting to unmask a Twitter account that criticizes the new government.

Twitter filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Thursday in Northern California District Court to prevent the agencies from forcing Twitter to reveal the identity of the individual(s) running the @ALT_uscis account.

@ALT_uscis is one of the numerous accounts that sprung up on social media after Trump’s inauguration to criticize the new administration. The account has been critical of both Trump and DHS.

“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,” states Twitter’s suit.

According to the suit, on March 14, 2017 CBP issued an administrative summons ordering Twitter to provide information that would effectively reveal the identity of the person(s) using the @ALT_uscis account, including associated email addresses, mailing addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses.

Twitter’s attorneys argue that the law cited in the CBP summons, 19 U.S.C. § 1509, is narrow, applying only to the release of records related to merchandise importation and not to the facts and circumstances of this case. Twitter also argues that unmasking the account would have a chilling effect on free speech on its platform.

“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,” states the suit. “And the Court has likewise recognized that anonymity is often essential to fostering such political speech where, as here, the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech.”

It is ironic that Donald Trump and his supporters in government have continued to accuse Susan Rice of a “crime” with no proof that she acted unlawfully or with political motivation. However, at the same time, agencies in Trump’s government are unlawfully attempting to unmask a Twitter account for purely political reasons.

The ACLU weighed in on Twitter Thursday, supporting Twitter’s suit and vowing to defend @ALT_uscis in court.



Featured image:Gage Skidmore Flickr Creative Commons

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