Twitter and the US government are at legal loggerheads after the social media platform filed a lawsuit in response to a demand from the Department of Homeland Security seeking the identity of an anonymous anti-Trump account.
After Donald Trump's inauguration in January a number of rogue Twitter accounts appeared purporting to be managed by federal employees who either had official Twitter posting privileges revoked, or were concerned about the new administration stifling their delivery of scientific information.
The trend kicked off after the official National Parks Service account tweeted about the small size of the inauguration crowd. The Twitter account was quickly shut down, reportedly after President Trump made a phone call to the head of the Parks Service. From that point on dozens of "alt" accounts started appearing, some undoubtedly were fake, while others were independently verified by journalists as coming from actual federal employees.
Twitter has largely remained silent about the proliferation of these accounts over the past months. Until now.
According to the lawsuit Twitter filed in the United States District Court on March 14, 2017, it received a summons notice from the Department of Homeland Security ordering the company to produce, for inspection, the records of a Twitter user named @ALT_USCIS. The order demanded all information be delivered including user names, account login, phone numbers, mailing addresses and IP addresses.
The suit filed by Twitter pointed out the bizarre foundation of the government's demand, which was presented under a specific law designed to allow the government to access private records directly relating to the importation of merchandise. Twitter also noted a confounding administrative error on the summons, with the date it was asked to deliver the records to the government being one day before the actual Summons was even faxed to them.
As well as making the case that the summons is fundamentally unlawful due to the demand of information not fitting with the law the government is citing, Twitter also stated that piercing the anonymity of this account would have a "grave chilling effect" on free speech and First Amendment rights.
The @ALT_USCIS account is allegedly managed by a federal employee of the US Citizenship and Immigration Services department, and this controversy has proved a boon for the account. In the last few days the account has grown from 32,000 followers, as identified in Twitter's lawsuit, to nearly 100,000.
While the account has frequently tweeted many negative comments about the current administration, there has been no information from the government specifying if classified information has been shared via the account.
The account is still active.
You can study the Homeland Security Summons to Twitter here.