Twitter headquarters in San Francisco
Twitter headquarters in San Francisco (Jason Doiy / The Recorder)

Update: The Federal government has abandoned its unmasking efforts, and Twitter has dropped the lawsuit. The original version of the story is below.

 

Twitter Inc. has sued to block an attempt by federal officials to unmask the person or people behind @ALT_USCIS, one of the so-called “alternative agency” Twitter accounts critical of Trump administration policies that have popped up over the past few months.

Like many of the alternative agency accounts, @ALT_USCIS claims that it is run by an individual currently employed by the federal government, in this instance the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. According to the complaint filed Thursday by a team at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the account attracted more than 32,000 followers in less than two months of existence with its mix of political commentary and often critical observations about the agency.

“Compelling Twitter to disclose information that would identify or lead to the identification of the person(s) who established and use the @ALT_USCIS account would chill the expression of particularly valuable political speech—namely speech by current or former public employees, or others with special insight into operations of our government,” wrote the Wilmer lawyers.

The Wilmer team is led by former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who previously helped Twitter fend off a lawsuit from the families of American contractors killed in terrorist attacks abroad who claimed Twitter provided material support to ISIS via access to its social media platform.

Thursday’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges an administrative summons issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in March. The summons sought “user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses” associated with the account.

Twitter’s lawyers maintain that the summons is invalid because the agency is only authorized to compel the production of records that relate to importing merchandise. They also argue that the summons violates both Twitter’s and the user’s First Amendment rights.

“In these circumstances, defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment beyond the contents of the complaint.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, @ALT_USCIS tweeted out the text of the First Amendment.

Update: The Federal government has abandoned its unmasking efforts, and Twitter has dropped the lawsuit. The original version of the story is below.

 

Twitter Inc. has sued to block an attempt by federal officials to unmask the person or people behind @ALT_USCIS, one of the so-called “alternative agency” Twitter accounts critical of Trump administration policies that have popped up over the past few months.

Like many of the alternative agency accounts, @ALT_USCIS claims that it is run by an individual currently employed by the federal government, in this instance the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. According to the complaint filed Thursday by a team at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, the account attracted more than 32,000 followers in less than two months of existence with its mix of political commentary and often critical observations about the agency.

“Compelling Twitter to disclose information that would identify or lead to the identification of the person(s) who established and use the @ALT_USCIS account would chill the expression of particularly valuable political speech—namely speech by current or former public employees, or others with special insight into operations of our government,” wrote the Wilmer lawyers.

The Wilmer team is led by former Solicitor General Seth Waxman, who previously helped Twitter fend off a lawsuit from the families of American contractors killed in terrorist attacks abroad who claimed Twitter provided material support to ISIS via access to its social media platform.

Thursday’s lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges an administrative summons issued by the U.S. Customs and Border Protection in March. The summons sought “user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses” associated with the account.

Twitter’s lawyers maintain that the summons is invalid because the agency is only authorized to compel the production of records that relate to importing merchandise. They also argue that the summons violates both Twitter’s and the user’s First Amendment rights.

“In these circumstances, defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users,” the company’s lawyers wrote.

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security declined to comment citing a policy against commenting on pending litigation.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment beyond the contents of the complaint.

Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, @ALT_USCIS tweeted out the text of the First Amendment.