Twitter Challenges U.S. Order for Anti-Trump User Records

Twitter defied a U.S. government request for records that could identify users behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump, and is challenging that order in court.

The company filed its lawsuit Thursday in a San Francisco federal court against the federal Department of Homeland Security and its Customs and Border Protection office, charging that their efforts to "unmask" the people behind the account violate the First Amendment.

Twitter said its users have a constitutional right to disseminate such "anonymous and pseudonymous political speech." It declined to comment beyond the lawsuit. DHS likewise declined to comment.

The "Alternative" Federal Government

The account in question is @ALT_uscis , a reference to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services office. The account described its users to The Associated Press in February as employees and former employees of the agency.

In a Thursday interview, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer now representing the account declined to discuss anything about the person or people currently involved in the account being targeted by the Trump administration. Documents supporting the Twitter accountholder's right to speak anonymously online will be filed in the next few days, said Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney for the ACLU.

"We think it's very important for the user's interests to be represented as well," Bhandari said. "The First Amendment requires the government to have a very compelling reason for unmasking someone's identity. That is important or people would be chilled from speaking out, particularly when they are speaking out against the government."

The government so far hasn't specified a reason for wanting to know the identity or identities behind the Twitter handle.

In the two months of its existence, the account has been critical of the Trump administration's immigration policies and "highlighted what the user views as a history of waste and mismanagement within USCIS and DHS," according to the lawsuit.


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