The Department of Homeland Security withdrew a bid to obtain the identities behind an "alt" USCIS Twitter account, in the face legal objections by the social media network.
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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!"