Donny Et Al. vs. Twitter & the First Amendment

Yesterday (April 6), Trump and his goons sent a notice to Twitter, demanding that the social media site divulge identifying information on the person or persons behind a pseudonymous account that has been openly critical of the new administration. Twitter’s response, in a nutshell: “No dice.”

O, Thou Pesky Constitution!

Twitter has since filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Gub’ment. The suit, filed in the Northern District of California, alleges that it is illegal for any government agency to compel Twitter to provide the information requested. The main crux of Twitter’s argument, which this writer strongly agrees with, is that the government has provided no compelling reason to justify why the account’s posts aren’t protected by the right to free speech. Given Donny’s obvious lack of familiarity with the United States Constitution, it’s perhaps unsurprising.

Pictured: the malcontents behind @ALT_uscis

Pictured: the malcontents behind @ALT_uscis (probably)

“It seems like the government lied to Twitter about why it wanted the information,” Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society Jennifer Granick told Wired. Given Donny’s track record, that assertion is wholly unsurprising, not to mentin accurate. “[The government] is not entitled to the information under the statutory authority it cites.”

What statutory authority is that, you ask? One that actually covers the release of records related to the importation of merchandise. Tweets, being not merchandise but rather written representations of users’ thoughts and, in this case, factual information about the atrocities being perpetrated by the current administration, do not even remotely fall under the invoked clause.

Nonetheless, Customs and Border Patrol agent Adam Hoffman faxed* Twitter a summons requesting that they “unmask” the owner of the account in question, @ALT_uscis, which purports to be run by current and/or former employees of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. The CPB’s summons “requested” login information, phone numbers, and mailing and I.P. addresses for those operating the account. Twitter replied that a court order would be required if the CPB wanted said information; the CPB responded that “no such court order would be obtained.

*Facepalm*

In truly Trumpian fashion, the CPB summons was a hot mess from the start. For starters, fax*. Secondly, the summons was sent on March 14, and ordered Twitter to provide the information by March 13. Finally, the Department of Homeland Security requested that Twitter keep the summons a secret—which, good luck with that, guys*—and stated that “failure to comply […] will render you liable in proceedings in a U.S. District Court to enforce compliance […].”

Twitter, meanwhile, are not complete clowns. Their filing reads, in part, “The CPB summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.” The suit also asserts that the government hasn’t the authority to request the users’ identity unless it (the government) can provide a compelling reason—for example, that a criminal or civil offense has been committed. Not liking and disagreeing with the sitting president does not, of course, constitute a criminal or civil offense.

It’s probably good that Twitter has better lawyers than our “president”, right?

ACLU Later, Donny!

The ACLU has stated that it will personally defend the owner of the @ALT_uscis account in court. “To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification,” said ACLU attorney Nathan Freed Wessler in a statement. “[…] In this case, the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent.”

No dice, Donny. No dice.

* It’s 2017.

Photo credit: mafate69 via Foter.com / CC BY-NC-SA

Leave a Reply