Twitter Withdraws Lawsuit After DHS Drops Demands For Alt-Account's Identity

Apr 7, 2017
Originally published on April 7, 2017 5:09 pm

Twitter has dropped a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, saying the demand that prompted the suit — that Twitter reveal the anonymous user behind an "alt-gov" account — has been withdrawn.

The original lawsuit, filed by the social media giant on Thursday, alleged that DHS had demanded that Twitter reveal the user behind "@ALT_uscis," an account allegedly run by current and former Citizenship and Immigration Services employees.

The summons threatened legal action if Twitter did not comply — and asked Twitter not to disclose the existence of the demand. Twitter sued, exposing the summons and asking a court to declare it unenforceable.

"Because the summons has now been withdrawn," Twitter's lawyers write in the latest filing, the company dropped the suit.

As we reported Thursday:

"The Twitter account in question is ... one of a wave of accounts started in late January and early February after the Trump administration set limits on social media postings from a number of agencies.

"You may remember that a Twitter account for Badlands National Park went rogue, tweeting about climate change. After that act of resistance was shut down, a number of 'alternative' accounts — for national parks and all kinds of other government agencies — sprang up.

"Some accounts say they are run by fans/supporters. Others claim to be run by actual government employees, which is difficult to verify. ...

"[Twitter's lawyers] note that @ALT_uscis was expressing dissent, criticizing immigration policies and disagreeing with other Trump administration policies. (The account's older tweets have since been deleted; some screenshots are shared in the court filing and more recent tweets follow the same trend.)

"Identifying the user 'would chill the expression of particularly valuable political speech,' Twitter says."

Jamie Lee Williams, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, tells NPR's Laura Sydell that First Amendment case law recognizes a strong value in anonymous speech, in particular.

Twitter declined to comment to NPR, beyond pointing to the latest filing. DHS has not responded to requests for comment.

The ACLU, which was also planning to pursue a legal challenge on behalf of the anonymous Twitter user, welcomed the news on Twitter.

Meanwhile the @ALT_uscis account, which used to have around 30,000 followers, now has about 100,000.

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