A win for Twitter in its resistance helped by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to a “fishing” expedition from two of Donald Trump’s worst agencies — the Department of Homeland Security and the US Customs Border Immigration Authority. The US government tried to unmask the Twitter account, which has been highly critical of the Trump administration and the agencies, but backed down after just one day of publicity from a joint Twitter/ACLU lawsuit. 

The two agencies had asked the messaging platform to identify who was behind the Twitter account @ALT_USCIS, which is one of many protest accounts styling themselves as “alternative agencies” to comment on announcements made by government departments. It makes it clear it is not expressing the views of either the Department of Homeland Security or the Customs agency.

The Twitter/ACLU lawsuit claimed users of the messaging service were protected under the first amendment of the US constitution. In its original action Twitter argued that giving up the information would have a “chilling effect” on government tricks. “The Supreme Court has long recognised the extraordinary value of  …  speech criticising government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement,” Twitter’s lawyers wrote. They noted that “anonymity is often essential” to protect government critics from retaliation. For its part the @ALT_USCIS account tweeted the language in the US constitution that protects free speech. The ranks of its followers more than quadrupled to 142,000 after the case became public.

In a new filing on Friday, Twitter said it was dismissing its previous complaint because the summons from the defendants had been withdrawn. In other words, the publicity from the original action forced the two nastiest of Trump’s agencies (in the highly contentious immigration and travel ban areas) to run away and hide, embarrassed at being sprung trying to silence a critic. — Glenn Dyer

Peter Fray

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