Suddenly, out of the blue, Twitter has become the spearhead of the first major freedom of speech case involving the Trump administration. Media reports this morning revealed that Twitter has filed a lawsuit against the US government, resisting attempts to get details of an account that has been a loud critic of the Trump administration on immigration issues and the Mexican wall plan. The government move looks very much like a fishing expedition to try and bludgeon Twitter into revealing details of the account so the Trump administration can go after it and shut it down.

The US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Security are trying to “unmask” the Twitter account @ALT_USCIS, also known as “Alt immigration”, which is still live. It describes itself as “immigration resistance” based in DC. It has tweeted on a range of subjects critical of the Trump administration, speaking out beyond immigration to subjects like healthcare and the president’s key advisers.

Following Trump’s inauguration on January 20, anonymous Twitter feeds voicing concerns at more than a dozen US government agencies started challenging the president’s views on climate change and other issues. Trump has vowed to build a wall along the USborder with Mexico and has promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants.

Twitter argues that its users are protected under the first amendment to the US Constitution with the right to “anonymous or pseudonymous political speech”. It says that the defendants, which also include John Kelly in his capacity as Secretary of Homeland Security, have not demonstrated an “appropriate basis” for impairing the first amendment interests of Twitter and its users.

“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,” Twitter said in the lawsuit.

The defendants (the two departments) had issued an administrative summons to Twitter on March 14, which directed Twitter to reveal the identity of that account. Twitter filed the suit in the Ninth Circuit Court and is asking the court to declare the summons unlawful and stop the enforcement of the summons.

“Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Twitter user in the case, said the government’s request was highly unusual. Requests for social media account information from the U.S. government typically involve a pressing national security or criminal matter, she said,” Reuters reported— Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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