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Feds Drop Demand That Twitter Turn Over Information About An Anti-Trump Account

UPDATE: One day after filing suit, Twitter dismissed its lawsuit against the Trump administration over a demand for information about the user behind an anti-Trump account. The government has withdrawn its request for information, according to court papers filed by Twitter's lawyers.

Originally posted on
Updated on

WASHINGTON — A federal agency has dropped its demand that Twitter turn over information about an anti-Trump account, according to court papers that Twitter filed on Friday.

Twitter's lawyers told a federal judge that the US Department of Justice contacted the company on Friday — one day after Twitter filed a lawsuit in federal court in California challenging the demand — to say that US Customs and Border Protection had withdrawn a summons seeking personal identifying information relating to the @ALT_USCIS account. Twitter said that as a result, it was dismissing the lawsuit.

"Because the summons has now been withdrawn, Twitter voluntary dismisses without prejudice all claims against Defendants," Twitter's lawyers wrote in Friday's filing.

Twitter sued the Trump administration on Thursday, trying to stop an attempt at forcing the company to reveal personal information about the user of the @ALT_USCIS account.

"The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech," the lawsuit argued.

Filed in federal court in California, the lawsuit sought a court order stopping the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) from using its summons authority to demand Twitter turn over personal identifying information relating to the account, identified on Twitter as an "immigration resistance" account and "[n]ot the views of DHS or USCIS."

Asked for comment on the lawsuit, Department of Homeland Security spokesperson Jenny Berke wrote, "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation."

In a letter sent Friday to the CBP, Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon said he was "gravely alarmed" by the government's demand that Twitter turn over the account information. Sen. Wyden called on CBP Acting Commissioner Kevin McAleenan to investigate the circumstances that led to the summons, including finding out whether officials in the Trump administration outside of the CBP were involved.

The lawsuit alleged that the request violates the First Amendment, is not authorized under the relevant summons law, violates the Administrative Procedure Act.

Moments after the lawsuit was announced, the account tweeted:

Twitter argued that the government cannot order Twitter to turn over the information unless several conditions are met, including "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."

Of those standards, Twitter's lawyers from Wilmer Hale — including former US Solicitor General Seth Waxman — wrote that "Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings."

The ACLU informed BuzzFeed News that it would represent the @ALT_USCIS user, and would be making a court filing on behalf of the user in the near future, raising statutory and constitutional arguments.

“The right to anonymously speak out against the government is clearly protected by the First Amendment. We are pleased to see Twitter standing up for its users’ rights, and the ACLU will soon be filing documents in court on behalf of this user," ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler told BuzzFeed News in a statement. "To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification. But in this case the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent."

We're glad Twitter is pushing back. We'll be going to court to defend this user's right to anonymous speech. https://t.co/tqj5XrNvgn

On March 14, according to the complaint, an agent with CBP faxed a summons to Twitter, ordering it to turn over "[a]ll records regarding the twitter account @ALT_USCIS to include, User name, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses."

As noted in the complaint, however, "The CBP Summons ordered Twitter to produce the records to a CBP office in Washington D.C. by 11:45 A.M. on March 13, 2017—the day before the CBP Summons was faxed to Twitter."

Read the lawsuit:

UPDATE

This story was updated on Friday with information about Twitter dismissing its lawsuit.


Chris Geidner is the legal editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC. In 2014, Geidner won the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association award for journalist of the year.

Contact Chris Geidner at chris.geidner@buzzfeed.com.

Zoe Tillman is a reporter with BuzzFeed News and is based in Washington, DC.

Contact Zoe Tillman at zoe.tillman@buzzfeed.com.

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