Twitter challenges US order to 'unmask' anti-Trump user records

The account claimed it was being run by federal employees at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Trump has vowed to build a wall along the USA border with Mexico and has promised to deport millions of illegal immigrants. AFP | Twitter filed suit Thursday against the USA government, asking a court to back its refusal to hand over the identities of users claiming to be dissenting federal employees.

Twitter declined a request for an interview.

Twitter, which has always been an advocate of Internet privacy, refused the request to unmask the user.

But its primary objection, the company said, is that allowing the government to unmask Twitter critics is a violation of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment right to free speech.

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DHS Press Secretary Jenny Burke told NBC News: "As a matter of policy, we do not comment on pending litigation". A representative for the Department of Homeland Security did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The American Civil Liberties Union has also pledged to join the fight, claiming it will "be going to court to defend this user's right to anonymous speech". Requests for social media account information from the USA government typically involve national security or criminal charges, she said. If the account users work within the administration, for example, their employment may have been jeopardized. During the second half of past year, the company received 2,304 such requests from U.S. law enforcement agencies, and offered up information for 82 percent of them, according to its latest transparency report.

A copy of the summons filed with the lawsuit says the records are needed for an investigation to ensure compliance with duties, taxes and fines and other customs and immigration matters. 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 offense has been committed, that unmasking the users' identity is the least restrictive means for investigating that offense, 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.

"I don't think there is any way for the government to come out of this looking good", Levy said.

"Twitter and other social media sites make promises to users about protecting anonymity".

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"We're glad Twitter is pushing back", the ACLU tweeted.

The social media company has a history of challenging other government demands for information on its users, including a 2012 demand from NY prosecutors about an Occupy Wall Street protester. In that case, Twitter was forced to hand over tweets from the protester to a judge who threatened the company with sanctions, and the protester pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

In 2014, Twitter sued the USA government (under President Barack Obama) seeking to publish its full "transparency report" outlining government requests for information.

The lawsuit is just the latest chapter in a contentious relationship between President Trump and Twitter.

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