Twitter sues Trump administration over freedom of speech

7 Apr 2017

US president Donald Trump. Image: Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock

Twitter cites freedom of speech as basis for not turning over records of @ALT_uscis user.

Social media giant Twitter has filed a federal lawsuit against the administration of US president Donald Trump over demands for the identity behind an account opposed to recent immigration policies.

The popular site, favoured by Trump himself as a medium for poorly thought-out rants, has cited freedom of speech as the reason for not handing over records on the @ALT_uscis account.

@ALT_uscis is claimed to be the work of at least one federal immigration employee and describes itself as “immigration resistance”.

Twitter pleads the first

In the wake of Trump’s inauguration in January, dozens of anonymous Twitter feeds bearing the logos of various US government agencies have sprung up to challenge the presidential administration on issues including immigration and climate change.

This was particularly notable when Trump issued a gag order on social media accounts for several government agencies, including the National Park Service.

In the case of @ALT_uscis, the account rose up in response to Trump’s vow to build a wall between the US and Mexico.

“The rights of free speech afforded [to] 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,” Twitter said in the lawsuit.

“In these circumstances, defendants may not compel Twitter to disclose information regarding the real identities of these users without first demonstrating that some criminal or civil offence has been committed.”

Twitter’s counsel maintained that “unmasking the users’ identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offence”, adding that “the demand for this information is not motivated by a desire to suppress free speech, and that the interests of pursuing that investigation outweigh the important first amendment rights of Twitter and its users”.

US president Donald Trump. Image: Gino Santa Maria/Shutterstock

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years