New legal documents show that Twitter is taking the Department of Homeland Security to court to protect the true identity of an account that claims to be run by employees of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. The account, @ALT_USCIS, is one of many “alt” government agency accounts that began appearing in the early days of the Trump administration. The filing describes Twitter’s objection to the request:
“Specifically, on March 14, 2017, they issued and delivered to Twitter an administrative summons (the “CBP Summons”) demanding that Twitter provide them records that would unmask, or likely lead to unmasking, the identity of the person(s)responsible for the @ALT_USCIS account. The summons was issued by a Special Agent in Charge within U.S. Customs and Border Protection, another unit of DHS. The CBP Summons is unlawful and must be enjoined…”
It’s not immediately clear which of the account’s tweets were deemed particularly objectionable by DHS. Like many of the other alt accounts, @ALT_USCIS openly criticizes the policies pursued by the current administration:
“In the just over two months since it was created, @ALT_USCIS has frequently criticized the immigration policies of the new Administration, highlighted what the user views as a history of waste and mismanagement within USCIS and DHS, and publicized facts that the account’s users portray as casting doubt on Administration policies.”
To date there has been little evidence suggesting that any of these alt-agency accounts — and there are many — are actually run by the agency employees they claim to be, but Homeland Security’s decision to unmask this particular account raises questions about its potential legitimacy.
The ACLU is expected to represent the individual or individuals behind the @ALT_USCIS account. ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler criticized the move by DHS in a statement to TechCrunch:
“The right to anonymously speak out against the government is clearly protected by the First Amendment. We are pleased to see Twitter standing up for its users’ rights, and the ACLU will soon be filing documents in court on behalf of this user. To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification. But in this case the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent.”
Twitter declined to comment when asked if it has received requests from DHS pertaining to other anonymous accounts claiming to be run by government employees. The company has provided TechCrunch with the full filing, which is embedded below.