Feds Abandon Quest to Unmask Trump Critic

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – The U.S. government has backed off on its quest to make Twitter unmask an anonymous critic of President Donald Trump after the social media giant challenged a subpoena in federal court.

Twitter voluntarily dismissed its lawsuit on Friday after learning U.S. Customs and Border Protection withdrew a subpoena issued on March 14 seeking the identity of @ALT_uscis.

@ALT_uscis is one of several “alt-government” accounts tweeting out dissenting views about Trump administration policies. USCIS is an acronym for U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, one of several agencies under the Department of Homeland Security.

“The speed with which the government buckled shows just how blatantly unconstitutional its demand was in the first place,” said Esha Bhandari, one of the ACLU attorneys representing the account holder.

In its April 6 lawsuit, Twitter called the subpoena an abuse of governmental power that appeared intended to suppress free speech rather than serve a legitimate law enforcement purpose.

At least one person behind the @ALT_uscis account claimed to be an employee of the federal immigration agency and aired views critical of the department, including its overreliance on paper and failure to adopt more efficient processes that could save time and money.

Preserving the right to air dissenting views anonymously is “especially important,” given that a federal employee could face retaliation, sanctions or other consequences for exercising his or her First Amendment rights, Twitter agued in its 25-page complaint.

In a tweet sent out Friday morning, @ALT_uscis thanked Twitter and the ACLU for helping protect the user’s anonymity.

“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,” @ALT_uscis tweeted.

Twitter was represented by Mark Flanagan of WilmerHale in Palo Alto, California.

A Twitter spokesman declined to comment, and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on Friday.

 

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