Twitter argued against a nondisclosure order, but eventually handed over the data after being fined for being in ‘contempt’ of a court order.
Elon Musk’s Twitter – now known as X – was fined $350,000 for a delay in giving investigators access to Donald Trump’s Twitter account data, according to unsealed court files.
The data was requested in relation to a criminal investigation against the former US president. This investigation is looking into potential interference with the “peaceful transfer of power following the 2020 presidential election”.
The US government tried to submit the data request on 17 January 2023 through Twitter’s website for legal requests but found that the website was not working. On 19 January 2023, the government managed to make the request through Twitter’s website.
The court documents claim US investigators had also obtained a nondisclosure order that prohibited Twitter from disclosing the existence of the search warrant to Trump.
The investigators cited concerns that disclosing the search warrant to Trump “would seriously jeopardise the ongoing investigation” by giving him the chance to destroy evidence or inform others.
Initially, Twitter delayed producing any of the account data due to an objection to the nondisclosure order. The company claimed this order was “invalid under the First Amendment”.
The US First Amendment guarantees certain freedoms including the freedom of speech. Musk has regularly pushed the narrative that he is a free-speech “absolutist”.
After failing in their objections, Twitter handed over the data on 9 February 2023.
On 3 March 2023, a US district court declared Twitter in “civil contempt” for failing to hand over the data at the requested date and imposed the $350,000 fine.
“Although Twitter ultimately complied with the warrant, the company did not fully produce the requested information until three days after a court-ordered deadline,” the court documents read.
Earlier this year, reports looking at Twitter’s data claimed the platform has at least partially complied with almost all takedown requests from governments since Musk took over the platform.
Twitter faced some criticism in May for its decision to restrict access to some content in Turkey ahead of elections in the country.
Twitter’s Global Government Affairs account said this action was in response to “legal process” and done to ensure the platform remains available to the people of Turkey. Twitter didn’t specify what content was being restricted.
Musk responded at the time and said the choice was “have Twitter throttled in its entirety or limit access to some tweets”. But various Twitter users said the decision was counter to Musk’s comments about being a free-speech absolutist.
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