US backs down over unmasking anti-Trump Twitter account

Claim dropped after Twitter files a lawsuit against the government

The US government has given up on its quest to force Twitter to reveal details of an anti-Trump account, @ALT_USCIS, just a day after the social network announced it would be taking authorities to court to block attempts to find out who's behind the tweets.

Twitter decided to take legal action against the US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency, part of the Department of Homeland Security, because it felt summoning the information was "abusing a limited-purpose investigatory tool" and completely going against freedom of speech.

The social network was supported by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which said it would stand by Twitter and take action against the government too if it continued its attempt to find out the account's genuine owner.

@ALT_USCIS also had a huge amount of support from the Twitter community, with its user base increasing from 38,000 to 158,000 in a day

The government wanted Twitter to hand over all details of the account including "user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses, and IP (computer) addresses."

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07/04/2017: Twitter pushes back against US government data demand

Twitter is suing the American government to stop authorities from revealing the person behind an account that's criticised President Trump.

Trump's administration is targeting the @ALT_USCIS account because it claims to be run by government staff at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service. The Department of Homeland Security is using a "limited-purpose investigatory tool" to find out who is behind the account, which Twitter argues it should not be allowed to do.

"The rights of free speech afforded Twitter's users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the US Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech," the social media site argues in the legal filing.

The filing added that Twitter need not hand over such data unless a criminal or civil offence has been committed, noting that the specific legal tool the DHS is trying to use actually relates to federal laws around imported merchandise and it's clear the investigation isn't about that.

The complaint noted that many so-called resistance accounts have popped up since Trump's inauguration, claiming to be run by staff at various government agencies. Naturally, they are run anonymously, in order to avoid "retaliation, harassment, or even loss of livelihood that might occur if their real identities became known to their superiors".

The account in question claims to be run by a current federal employee, and sends tweets criticising the government's immigration policies, as well as raising concerns about "historical and recent mismanagement" at the agency.

The ACLU has said it will be "going to court to defend this user's right to anonymous speech", and said it was "glad" that Twitter was pushing back to defend the person or people behind the account.

The specific account in question, @ALT_USCIS, has seen its follower numbers leap since the case became public, suggesting the attention from the government is ensuring more people are aware of it. However, the administration may care less about follower counts and more about cracking down on leakers.

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