Twitter Is Suing U.S. Customs and Border Protection to Prevent the Unmasking of a ‘Rogue’ Account

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Twitter is suing Customs and Border Protection to oppose an agency summons demanding that Twitter turn over personal information associated with a so-called “rogue” Twitter account, @ALT_USCIS. The anonymous account purports to berun by a current employee of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. As the lawsuit summarizes, @ALT_USCIS has been a vocal critic against many of the Trump administration’s policies, including the twin immigration executive orders and the plan to build a wall along the Mexican border, as well as perceived inefficiency and outdated technology among the U.S. agencies that handle immigration. Additionally, the American Civil Liberties Union is now defending the person in charge of @ALT_USCIS, and has begun the process of filing a First Amendment lawsuit on their behalf, according to The Intercept.

Twitter — with legal representation from President Bill Clinton’s former solicitor general, Seth Waxman — is fighting the request on both First Amendment and specific statutory grounds. As grounds for the summons, CBP cites a law giving it the ability to make such requests as part of investigations pertaining to “the importation of merchandise.” In response, Twitter argues that “the @ALT_USCIS account plainly has nothing whatsoever to do with the importation of merchandise into the U.S.” The suit also cites the Supreme Court’s long tradition of protecting anonymous political speech in situations where “the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech.”

“Rogue” Twitter accounts claiming to be run by federal employees from different agencies have proliferated in the months since President Donald Trump’s inauguration, and have been the source of consternation for an administration fixated on leaks. Other popular “#altgov” accounts designed to resist their respective agencies include @RoguePOTUSStaff, @alt_labor, and @blm_alt.

Twitter’s lawsuit is a notable continuation of its greater willingness than other technology companies to resist the new administration’s policies. In November, Twitter said it would consider banning Trump from Twitter if he violated its terms of service, saying: “The Twitter Rules apply to all accounts, including verified accounts.”

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