Sam Biddle
The Intercept
April 6, 2017

SOON AFTER Donald Trump’s inauguration, persons critical of the president and his administration began creating anonymous Twitter accounts claiming to be dissident members of the federal government, such as the famous “Alt BLM” and “Rogue POTUS Staff” users. Today, Twitter is filing suit against the U.S. government, exposing an attempt to expose and attack one such account.

The lawsuit, filed in the Northern District of California, says the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account is now being targeted by the Department of Homeland Security:
On March 14, 2017, Defendant Adam Hoffman, an agent within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, transmitted to Twitter by fax a summons, ordering Twitter to produce certain records pertaining to the @ALT_USCIS account. The CBP Summons invoked as authority 19 U.S.C. § 1509. It was signed by Defendant Stephen P. Caruso, a CBP Special Agent in Charge based in Miramar, Florida. A true and accurate copy of the CBP Summons, in the form it was received by Twitter, is attached as Exhibit A.

43. The CBP Summons states that Twitter is “required” to “produce[] for inspection” “[a]ll records regarding the [T]witter account @ALT_USCIS to include, User names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses.” The purpose of this request appears to be, and the effect of Twitter’s complying with it likely would be, to enable or help to enable Defendants to pierce the anonymity of the person or persons who established and use the @ALT_USCIS account.
Homeland Security further asked that Twitter keep the very existence of the summons secret, and added that “failure to comply with this summons will render you liable to proceedings in a U.S. District Court to enforce compliance with this summons as well as other sanctions.” When Twitter replied stating that such a demand would require a court order, Special Agent Adam Hoffman of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection said, in the companies words, that “no such court order would be obtained.” Strangely, the summons specified a deadline for disclosure of @ALT_USCIS’s user information that occurred the day before the summons was even faxed to Twitter. Regardless of the fact that many of these “alt accounts” appear to be individuals pretending to be members of a given federal agency, removing their anonymity simply because they are criticizing the president would be a devastating blow to Twitter’s ability to facilitate free speech.
Twitter is now asking the court to declare that “the CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.” Esha Bhandari of the ACLU told The Intercept that the group is personally defending the Twitter account owner, and will be filing “in court shortly to defend the user’s rights, focusing on the user’s First Amendment right to speak anonymously.” Although Bhandari would not comment on whether the account is actually run by a federal employee or employees, she noted that “on the face of the summons the government has offered no reason for seeking this information.”
NOTE:  While it's too early to accuse the Trump Administration of targeting it's critics for extermination, remember that we also thought it was too early last year to accuse the Trump Team of assisting Russia in rigging the 2016 Presidential Election.  I have to say, though, that this seems typical Trump:  Someone criticizes him and he attacks.  He has a nasty habit of trying to silence his critics, thin skinned as he apparently is.  Not sure this bodes well of the next however long Trump is in office.  But unless some sort of espionage or criminal activity is revealed, I don't see how Twitter can lose this fight.   

Have A Great Day!


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