Twitter pulls lawsuit over anti-Trump account, says summons withdrawn

Fri Apr 7, 2017 8:56pm EDT
 
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By David Ingram

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Twitter Inc on Friday dropped a lawsuit it filed the previous day against the U.S. Homeland Security Department, saying the government had withdrawn a summons for records about who was behind an account critical of President Donald Trump.

A lawyer for the social media company, Mark Flanagan, wrote in court papers that a U.S. Justice Department lawyer told Twitter about the withdrawal of the summons on Friday and that the demand "no longer has any force or effect." (tmsnrt.rs/2oKlWnk)

It was not immediately clear why the government had withdrawn the summons, or whether it had closed an investigation it said it was conducting. The Justice Department, which defends federal agencies in court, declined to comment. The Homeland Security Department, which issued the summons, had no immediate comment.

The abrupt end to the dispute may indicate that Justice Department lawyers did not like their chances of succeeding in a fight about speech rights, said Jamie Lee Williams, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which advocates for digital rights.

"It seemed like a blatant attempt to censor or chill the people behind this account, or to retaliate against people who are speaking out against this administration," Williams said.

"This could have been a huge loss for the administration in court," she added.

Twitter cited freedom of speech as a basis for not turning over records about the account, @ALT_uscis. The people behind the account have not disclosed their identities, but the use of "ALT" with a government agency acronym has led many to assume government employees are behind such tweets.

The lawsuit said the account "claims to be" the work of at least one federal immigration employee. (tmsnrt.rs/2p6CnXp)   Continued...

 
The logo for the parody immigration Twitter account @alt_uscis, the subject of administrative summons from the U.S. government to social media company Twitter, is seen in a screenshot taken April 6, 2017.   @alt_uscis/Handout via Reuters