SAN FRANCISCO (BCN/AP)—Twitter Inc. sued the administration of President Donald Trump in federal court in San Francisco today, seeking to block a Department of Homeland Security bid for the identity of the creator of a critical Twitter account.
The account is called ALT_USCIS. According to the lawsuit, it claims to be unofficial commentary by one or more anonymous employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service, a unit of DHS.
The account was begun in late January and has criticized the Trump administration's immigration policies and alleged waste and mismanagement within the DHS.
On March 14, an agent of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection, another unit of DHS, issued the San Francisco-based social media platform a summons to disclose the account's "user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses."
Twitter's lawsuit claims the request is illegal and also violates the First Amendment right of free speech.
It is illegal, the lawsuit contends, because Customs and Border Patrol authorized under law to seek only records related to the importation of merchandise and the payment of duty, fees and taxes.
In addition, the lawsuit says, the information would chill free speech by taking away the account creator's anonymity and threatening the anonymity of similar sites.
The account is one of dozens of anonymous Twitter accounts by present or former employees that criticize the actions of various federal agencies under the Trump administration, according to the lawsuit.
"Permitting Customs and Border Protection to pierce the pseudonym of the @ALT_USCIS account would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of that account in particular and on the many other 'alternative agency' accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government policies," the lawsuit says.
"The Supreme Court has long recognized the extraordinary value of the kind of speech emanating from these accounts -- pure political speech criticizing government policies and highlighting government waste and mismanagement."
"And the court has likewise recognized that anonymity is often essential to fostering such political speech where, as here, the speaker could face retaliation or retribution if his or her real identity were linked to the speech," the lawsuit argues.
The suit asks for a court order declaring the summons illegal and unenforceable.
A representative of the Department of Homeland Security was not immediately available for comment.
The defendants in the lawsuit are the Department of Homeland Security, Customs and Border Protection and several officials.
This is not the first time Twitter has filed suit in defense of its and its users' First Amendment rights.
In 2012, the company fought back against a court order compelling it to turn over basic user information and tweets from an Occupy Wall Street protester. The protester later pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The posts had been public.
In 2014, Twitter sued the U.S. government (under President Barack Obama) seeking to publish its full "transparency report" outlining government requests for information.