Twitter filed a lawsuit Thursday against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, asking the court to prevent the department from taking steps to unmask the user behind an account critical of the Trump administration. It's unclear why authorities invoked the clause.
The suit names DHS Secretary John F. Kelly, along with acting U.S. Customs and Border Protection Commissioner Kevin McCaleenan and two other agency officials. The acronym CIS refers to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and the account describes itself as "immigration resistance".
"Rogue" Twitter accounts claiming to be run by federal employees from different agencies have proliferated in the months since Trump's inauguration, and have been the source of consternation for an administration fixated on leaks.
Twitter, the DHS and the White House didn't immediately respond to requests for comment. "We have seen no reason the government has given for seeking to unmask this speaker's identity", ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari told Reuters. In November, Twitter said it would consider banning President Trump from Twitter if he violated its terms of service, saying: "The Twitter Rules apply to all accounts, including verified accounts". She also declined to say whether she has held conversations with US officials. For the average Twitter user, there is simply no way to prove if this is true or not, but the government sure would like to find out. "We'll be going to court to defend this user's right to anonymous speech".
Several cases outside the Internet realm have raised similar concerns, where the government arguably hasn't provided enough justification for unmasking a target, Bhandari said. Requests for social media account information from the US government typically involve national security or criminal charges, she said. Majority were probably fake, but one of these "rogue" accounts has actually drawn the ire of the Trump administration. But there's no concrete evidence the users are who they say they are.
In response, Twitter argued in its lawsuit that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security office and other defendants didn't provide any actual evidence that the people behind the account are guilty of any civil or criminal wrongdoing and that instead, the government is trying to silence constitutionally protected dissenting opinions.