The Department of Homeland Security wants to know the identity of one of its anonymous critics, and Twitter today filed a lawsuit to prevent the agency from finding out.
Twitter said in a Thursday filing that it seeks to prevent U.S. Customs and Border Protection (a DHS agency) from “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool to try to unmask the real identity of the operator of the @ALT_USCIS account. Since Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, many “alt”-government agency Twitter accounts — @AltStateDpt, @Alt_NASA, and so on — have emerged, either claiming to be operated by anti-Trump government staffers or anti-Trump activists.
The lawsuit states that on March 14, the company received a faxed summons from CBP “demanding that Twitter provide them records that would unmask, or likely lead to unmasking, the identity of the person(s) responsible for the @ALT_USCIS account.” Twitter further says that it told a CBP official that the company required a court order to in order to comply with the summons, which CBP reportedly declined to obtain.
Twitter has in the past complied with warrants to reveal user identities. The FBI in March arrested a user for tweeting a GIF at a journalist in order to provoke an epileptic seizure, and Twitter has cooperated with local law enforcement investigations as well.
Twitter’s lawsuit provides two primary reasons, however, for why CBP’s request to unmask @ALT_USCIS is unlawful and violates the First Amendment.
- First, the CBP’s investigation into the account “plainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the importation of merchandise into the United States,” which is the relevant legal justification provided by the agency.
- Second, were CBP to uncover the accounts operator, it “would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of [the many] ‘alternative agency’ accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government policies.”
Twitter will have some help when it goes to court against the Trump administration. The American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully fought Trump’s previous immigration restrictions, tweeted its support of the organization. The organization added that it will appear in court to argue on behalf of the company.
@ALT_USCIS, meanwhile, speculated on the impact the case might have on its odds of getting its account officially verified by Twitter.
A spokesperson for Twitter declined to comment on the filing. Jenny Burke, a spokesperson for DHS, told VICE News that “as a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
Watch the VICE News Tonight segment documenting how the ACLU has become a darling of the left, even though its history isn’t so political.