Twitter Sues Department of Homeland Security in Publicity Stunt To Protect Alternative Agency Account

Today, Twitter Inc. filed a lawsuit against the United States Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California an attempt to obtain an injunction barring DHS from obtaining the user information of a Twitter account–@ALT_USCIS. The lawsuit is essentially a publicity stunt because it has no basis in the law and no chance of success.

The full lawsuit can be found at:

@ALT_USCIS appears to be the Twitter account of a disgruntled employee of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. DHS, USCIS, and Customs and Border Patrol apparently sent a subpoena to Twitter to obtain information, e.g., IP addresses and e-mails, associated with the account.

Twitter claims the following in the lawsuit:

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 problem with Twitter’s argument, that DHS has to demonstrate that an offense has been committed to obtain the information sought in the subpoena (CBP Summons in ths case), is that the argument is baseless. Under federal law, including the Stored Communications Act and U.S. Supreme Court precedent regarding toll billing records dating back to the 1970s, the government does not need to make any sort of showing to obtain this basic information. Twitter knows this.
Twitter goes on in the complaint to describe what alternative agency accounts are and how they were created by rogue agency employees in response to the election of President Donald Trump. How this is relevant to whether a CBP Summons was lawful is unknown:
In the days and weeks following the inauguration of President Donald J. Trump, a new and innovative class of American speakers emerged on Twitter’s ubiquitous online platform: speakers who purport to be current or former employees of federal agencies, or others with special insights about the agencies, who provide views and commentary that is often vigorously opposed, resistant, or “alternative” to the official actions and policies of the new Administration. Typically, these so-called “alternative agency” accounts are named and self-described by their users in a manner that both (a) identifies the particular federal agency that the user seeks primarily to criticize and with which the user purports to have significant knowledge, and (b) proclaims that the user is not an official voice or spokesperson for the agency.
Twitter is represented in the suit by attorneys at the firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr LLP. DHS has not yet filed a response.

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