Social Media

DHS ends pursuit of rogue Twitter account

Image credit: rvlsoft / Shutterstock.com 

(Image credit: rvlsoft / Shutterstock.com)

The Department of Homeland Security is backing off demands that Twitter disclose the identity of users posting criticisms of the Trump administration’s immigration policy in the guise of a rogue employee at the account @ALT_uscis.

DHS filed an administrative summons on March 14 to request the disclosure of the account holder’s information, including account logins, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses.

Twitter fought the order in court. In an April 6 filing in the U.S. District Court in Northern California, the social media network said the summons was an attempt to block free speech. It also argued that the legal tool DHS’s Customs and Border Protection component used to request the account holder’s identification was misapplied. The summons in question is designed to compel the production of records related to agency probes of imports into the U.S.

"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," Twitter's attorneys wrote in their filing.

The @ALT_ucsis account is one of dozens of alt-agency accounts that sprung up in the last few months to razz the Trump administration about its policies. Twitter's brief welcomed the proliferation of the alt-agency accounts as "a new and innovative class of American speakers … who purport to be current or former employees of federal agencies, or others with special insights about the agencies."

The American Civil Liberties Union praised the withdrawal of the summons.

“The speed with which the government buckled shows just how blatantly unconstitutional its demand was in the first place," said ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari, a member of the legal team representing the @ALT_uscis account holder. "The anonymity that the First Amendment guarantees is often most essential when people criticize the government, and this free speech right is as important today as ever," she said in an emailed statement.

The anonymous @ALT_uscis tweeter was clearly shaken by the experience.

"We are taking a break! The past few days have been extremely difficult and full of anxiety," the account tweeted after DHS withdrew its summons. "Thank you again America!"

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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