Trump & Co. Just Picked The Wrong Fight With Twitter


Publish Date:
April 6, 2017
  • Dreyfuss, Emily
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One day after Twitter filed in court, the government dropped its request to unmask the anti-Trump Twitter account. As a result, Twitter dropped its suit.

On Thursday Twitter filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol, alleging that it’s illegal for the government to compel the social media company to divulge the real name of the person running the anti-Trump Twitter account @ALT_USCIS. The scathing 25-page filing can be distilled to one pure thought: No chance.

At issue is less that the government requested information about an individual, and more that it hasn’t given a compelling reason to justify why that information isn’t protected by free speech—and, in fact, points to a seemingly unrelated law as grounds for its request. The result? A government case that seems destined to be steamrolled by the first judge it comes to. “It seems like the government lied to Twitter about why it wanted the information,” says Jennifer Granick, Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. “It’s not entitled to the information under the statutory authority it cites.”

“It is really rare to see a federal criminal investigation that is just on its face spurious,” says Granick.

That justification would need to be something like the government knowing that the person running this Twitter account had committed a crime, or was involved in some kind of serious wrong-doing. If the government had that knowledge, “then Twitter is in the same position as any other company that might have such knowledge,” says Nate Persily of Stanford Law School. And in those cases, companies often comply.

But nothing in Twitter’s filing indicates the government has such a justification. “From the face of it, a judge is just going to say no, I’m sorry, this violates the First Amendment,” says Granick. “And this is not a scrupulous way to conduct your business.”

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