Twitter Wins Free Speech Battle After DHS Backs Down

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The US government has withdrawn its summons demanding Twitter hand over info related to a parody account criticizing Donald Trump’s policies.  

The micro-blogging platform dropped its own counter lawsuit, filed in response to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) summons, on Friday.

The stand-off began last week after the DHS took offence to the @alt_USCIS account.

The Twitter account, which describes itself as “immigration resistance”, appears little more than one of many online anti-Trump voices in the US.

There are suspicions that these “alt” government Twitter accounts, of which there are several now, are run by current or former federal employees. However, the bio for @alt-USCIS clearly states that it does not express the views of DHS or one of its agencies: USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services).

Still, Twitter was forced to file a lawsuit last Thursday after claiming that the government’s demands for info on the account holder would run counter to the First Amendment.

It explained:

“The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech. 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. But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings.”

What’s more, Twitter argued that the legal instrument referenced in the US Customs & Border Protection summons it was issued with only applies to info on duties and tax paid on imported merchandise.

The lawsuit, which goes on to praise the “new and innovative class of American speakers” on the platform critical of the Trump administration, was withdrawn by Twitter voluntarily on Friday after the government backed down.

The account tweeted its thanks:

“We want to thank @twitter and @aclu for standing up for the right of free anonymous speech. Thank you resistance for standing up for us.”

The case is yet another public blow for the Trump administration, which has found its policymaking efforts frequently hit by legal and constitutional roadblocks.  

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