Twitter Inc. has filed a federal lawsuit to block an order by the US government demanding that it reveal who is behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies, Reuters reports.
Citing freedom of speech as a basis for not turning over records, Twitter filed the lawsuit in federal court in San Francisco and said that the account, @ALT_uscis, claimed to be run by at least one federal immigration employee. The acronym CIS refers to US Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the account describes itself as “immigration resistance”.
Trump has vowed to build a wall along the US border with Mexico and has promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants.
Following Trump’s inauguration in January, anonymous Twitter feeds that borrowed the names and logos of more than a dozen U.S. government agencies appeared to challenge the president’s views on climate change and other issues.
A Twitter spokesman declined to comment on whether the government demanded information about other accounts critical of Trump.
Twitter, which counts Trump among its active users, has a record of litigating in favor of user privacy.
“The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech,” Twitter said in the lawsuit.
The US Department of Homeland Security, which is a defendant in the lawsuit, declined to comment on pending litigation. The Justice Department, which typically represents federal agencies in court, also declined to comment.
Esha Bhandari, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union, which is representing the Twitter user in the case, said the government’s request was highly unusual. Requests for social media account information from the US government typically involve national security or criminal charges, she said.
“We have seen no reason the government has given for seeking to unmask this speaker’s identity,” Bhandari said, adding that the right to anonymous speech against the government is “a bedrock American value” strongly protected under the First Amendment of the US Constitution.
Meanwhile, shares of Twitter dropped about 1 percent on Thursday after co-founder Ev Williams said he is selling a minority of his shares in the social media company, which has been losing ground to Facebook and other fast-growing rivals.
“It actually pains me to be selling at this point, but this sale is all about personal context, not company context,” Williams wrote in a blog post.
Twitter in the fourth quarter posted the slowest revenue growth since it went public four years ago and its stock has dropped 16 percent in the past year.
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