Twitter has sued the Department of Homeland Security over its attempts to “unmask” the creator of an alternative US Citizenship and Immigration Services account, @ALT_uscis, which has posted tweets critical of the government.
The account, seemingly written by a member of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, is one of many “rogue” government accounts set up in the wake of President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The accounts, which include the Rouge National Park Service account and Alt Food and Drug Administration were created after a number of negative Trump tweets sent from government accounts were removed.
The suit filed Thursday in the Northern California District Court seeks to prevent the DHS and US Customs and Border Protection from “unlawfully abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool” to “unmask the real identity” of those behind the Alt_UCIS account which has been used “to express public criticism of the Department and the current Administration.”
CBP sent Twitter a summons for records that would expose the identity of the account owner and ordered the company to keep the request quiet. It required Twitter to produce “user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses” of the account holder.
— ALT🛂 Immigration (@ALT_uscis) February 16, 2017
The lawsuit questions whether CBP has the legal authority to request the information. Twitter questioned the reason for the request, which was based on a statute largely related to taxes, and argued that providing the information 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.”
Along with DHS and CBP, Twitter is suing DHS Secretary John F. Kelly, CBP acting commissioner Kevin McAleenan and Special Agents Stephen P. Caruso and Adam Hoffman. The lawsuit calls for the court to find the request unenforceable as it “violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.”
After the news broke, the @ALT_USCIS account posted an image of the First Amendment.
The account also gained 33,000 followers in under an hour after the news broke, nearly doubling the number of followers.
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