The United States Customs and Border Protection (CPB) has now withdrawn its outrageous and unconstitutional order demanding Twitter give up user data on an account frequently critical of the Trump administration.
On Thursday, Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, the CPB, and others, arguing that the CPB’s demand to provide possibly identifying user data on @ALT_uscis, one of many anonymous Twitter accounts critical of the Trump administration, violated the First Amendment of the Constitution. According to Twitter, the CPB bizarrely justified its order by citing a statue concerning imported merchandise.
Following Trump’s election, a handful of popular “rogue” Twitter accounts sprang up, purporting to be run by disgruntled employees of federal agencies. Most—if not all—of these accounts clearly aren’t associated with actual federal employees, but that doesn’t mean that the Trump administration can force Twitter to reveal their true identities.
The American Civil Liberties Union previously pledged to represent the person running the Twitter account in court, and Twitter warned of the potential chilling effects on free speech this CBP demand could have.
CBP’s summons didn’t even include any evidence or suspicion that a crime or civil offense had taken place. See this key part of Twitter’s lawsuit:
In these circumstances, Defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offense has been committed, that unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, that the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important First Amendment rights of Twitter and its users. But Defendants have not come close to making any of those showings. And even if Defendants could otherwise demonstrate an appropriate basis for impairing the First Amendment interests of Twitter and its users, they certainly may not do so using the particular investigatory tool employed here—which Congress authorized solely to ensure compliance with federal laws concerning imported merchandise—because it is apparent that whatever investigation Defendants are conducting here does not pertain to imported merchandise.
Twitter declined to comment beyond providing its one-page filing rescinding its lawsuit.