Feds back off demand for information about anti-Trump Twitter account

Twitter on Friday dropped a one day old lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, after the feds gave up a legal effort to force the social media giant to reveal who was behind a Twitter account that has often been critical of the Trump Administration on immigration policy.

The dispute arose in mid-March, when the U.S. Customs and Border Protection service served a legal summons on Twitter, “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.”

Twitter argued in a lawsuit filed Thursday that such a move was well outside the legal responsibility of Customs and Border Protection, especially since there had been no evidence presented of any criminal activities associated with that account.

A day after that lawsuit was filed by Twitter, the CBP dropped its legal request.

The matter did not go unnoticed on Capitol Hill, as Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) sent a letter to the acting head of the CBP, labeling the move a “disturbing threat to free speech.”

“I request that you conduct an internal review into why and how CBP issued the summons and report on the results of that review,” Wyden wrote in his letter.

The Oregon Democrat said he feared that the feds were trying to find out if this Twitter account was being run by a current employee of the Department of Homeland Security, “in order to take retaliatory action or otherwise squelch the exercise of First Amendment” rights.

This account is one of a number of social media accounts that have sprung up since President Trump took office; they often make negative and/or mocking comments about changes being made inside certain agencies by the Trump Administration, and the President himself.

It’s not clear if any of them are run by actual federal employees, or are just part of a broader effort to push back against Mr. Trump.

Twitter’s argument is simple – unless they are accused of a crime, there is no reason the federal government should be able to force the release of material that would identify those who run the accounts.

It was not immediately clear why this arm of the Department of Homeland Security asked for this information – when the request was made on March 14, the agency tried to force Twitter to produce “user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses” of those behind @ALT_USCIS.

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