Twitter alleges Trump administration tried to unmask critical account

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Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration on Thursday alleging that U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials had tried to get the company to reveal the identity of an anonymous account that has been critical of the agency.

The lawsuit alleges CBP agents issued an administrative summons to Twitter asking it to reveal the identity of the user @ALT_uscis, an account that has been critical of the administration and specifically the US Citizenship and Immigration Services and claims to be run by a government employee.

Both CBP and USCIS are part of the Department of Homeland Security, which is named in the lawsuit.

{mosads}Shortly after the news broke, @ALT_uscis posted a screenshot of the First Amendment. 

According to the lawsuit, CBP agents Adam Hoffman and Stephen Caruso sent the administrative summons to Twitter on March 14, saying that the company was “required to turn over “[a]ll records regarding the [T]witter account @ALT_USCIS to include, User names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses.”

“The purpose 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 lawsuit reads.

The summons allegedly said that failure to comply would result in Twitter being dragged to federal court.

Lawyers for Twitter later confronted Hoffman about the summons, which also included a request not to notify the account of CBP’s action. According to the filing, Hoffman said he was conducting an investigation into the account but “did not identify any law or laws that he believed had been broken or point to any evidence substantiating any such belief—such as particular Tweets that he believes were unlawful.”

The lawsuit also argues that CBP was improperly employing the administrative summons, which Twitter said is a tool intended to be used only when investigating merchandise being imported into the country.

Following President Trump’s inauguration, a number of Twitter accounts parodying federal agencies and claiming to be run by government employees began criticizing the administration and its policies.

The ACLU said that they would be joining in on the fight.

“We’re glad Twitter is pushing back,” the civil rights group tweeted. “We’ll be going to court to defend this user’s right to anonymous speech.”

Twitter said that the attempt to unmask the account would be a violation of its First Amendment rights.

Compelled disclosure of the identities of Twitter users who have engaged in pseudonymous speech would chill their exercise of the constitutionally protected right to speak anonymously,” the company wrote. “Moreover, independent of its users’ rights, Twitter’s actions in providing a platform for the dissemination of its users’ speech—including its decision to permit the publication of pseudonymous speech — is fully protected by the First Amendment.”

The CBP declined to comment on the suit.

“As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation,” said CBP spokeswoman Christiana Coleman. 

– This story was updated at 5:10 p.m. 
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