11:47, April 07 406 0 abajournal.com

2017-04-07 11:47:07
Twitter sues to block US from unmasking tweeting Trump critic who claims to be government worker

Twitter is citing the First Amendment in a lawsuit that seeks to block a government agency from obtaining the identity of a tweeting critic who claims to work for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

The April 6 suit seeks to protect the identity of a person who tweets at @ALT_USCIS , report the Recorder (sub. eq.) the Washington Post, the Hollywood Reporter and Snopes.com. The Twitter user has criticized Trump immigration policies.

Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr represents Twitter in the federal suit, filed in the Northern District of California, according to the Recorder. The suit seeks to block an administrative summons for account information issued by U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Free speech advocates told the Washington Post that the summons is apparently the first by a government agency that seeks to unmask an anonymous critic.

Twitter makes two arguments. The first is that the customs agency can only obtain a narrow class of records relating to imports. The second is that the summons violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and the account holder.

To satisfy the First Amendment, Twitter argues, the government would have to demonstrate that a criminal or civil offense has been committed. The government would also have to show that unmasking the Twitter user is the least restrictive means for investigating the offense, that its bid for information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interest in pursuing the investigation outweighs the First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users, Twitter argues.

The suit refers to earlier clashes between President Trump and government agencies over their own Twitter accounts. Trump had apparently criticized the National Park Service’s tweeted crowd estimates at his inauguration. Another Twitter account for Badlands National Park tweeted about climate change; those tweets were blamed on a former employee who still had access to the account.

Following those disputes a wave of newly created Twitter accounts expressed alternative views for a federal agency, including the @ALT_USCIS account, created in late January, the suit says.

The Twitter account had 32,000 followers at the time of the court filing. The number had grown to 143,000 followers as of Friday morning.