Twitter Stops Administrative Summons From Trump Administration

U.S. Customs agents had filed to obtain a summons to force Twitter to reveal who was behind the @ALT_USCIS.  The account is referred to as an alt-agency account, one of many Twitter accounts that have been attacking President Trump. The accounts claim to be employees of federal agencies who have dissenting views on Trump administration policies. One of @ALT-USCIS’s tweets read, “How much are we taxpayers paying Mar-A-Cheeto for this set-up? But meals on wheels.”  The tweet was accompanied by a picture of the place settings for President Trump’s dinner with Chinese president, Xi Jinping. Jim Palazzolo, “Twitter Sues Over Summons,” Wall Street Journal, April 7, 2017, p. B3.

However, Twitter filed suit to halt the summons on the grounds that requiring the revelation of the identity of the account holder would have a chilling effect on the freedom of speech. The company argued that the right to anonymous speech “on matters of public moment” is a critical component of the First Amendment protections. Mike Isaac, “Twitter Sues U.S. to Shield Account Critical of Trump,” New York Times, April 7, 2017, p. B1. 

Twitter never had the opportunity to advance its argument because the Department of Homeland Security (in which customers is housed) withdrew the summons application. The owner of the account was believed to be a current employee of Customs and Border Protection (also part of the Department of Homeland Security). Mike Isaac, “U.S. Drops Order Demanding Twitter Unmask an Anti-Trump Account,” New York Times, April 8, 2017, p. B3. 

The quick withdrawal indicates what some legal experts believed.  The right to this form of speech was too important to be eliminated by government force.  Still, after announcing the quick victory, @ALT_USCIC also announced that he/she would be taking some time off.  The fear got through even if the summons did not.

DISCUSSION STARTERS 

Explain what the federal government wanted to do.

Discuss why the First Amendment provides protection for even dissenting federal employees.