Now, I know on the surface this may seem to be humorous … Twitter is suing the U.S. government! But it goes deeper … much, much deeper … all the way to our basic freedoms of speech and press. Here’s the story …
“Twitter Inc. on Thursday filed a federal lawsuit to block an order by the U.S. government demanding that it reveal who is behind an account opposed to President Donald Trump’s tough immigration policies.” Reuters, 06 April 2017
Anybody hearing drumbeats and jackboots yet?
The Twitter account in question is @ALT_USCIS, which is an anonymous profile account criticizing Don Trump’s immigration policy. It stands for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services and was reputedly started by federal employees of that agency. The person or people behind the account in questionare said to be a current employee of Citizenship and Immigration Services and has regularly posted messages at odds with White House policies. Who has posted on it? Thousands of people, mostly private citizens who have something to say about Trump’s immigration policies. I, myself, have posted comments in response to others.
Then last month, Twitter Inc. received an administrative summons demanding that it provide records related to the account, that it ‘unmask’ those who spoke out against Trump and his policies. People like me … and you …
Hear the jackboots now? See the stiff-armed salutes?
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’. All of which makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, but fulfills a legal requirement, since the 1st Amendment protects our right to speak out against our government. Smoke and mirrors … a lead-in to totalitarianism.
The challenge to the Trump administration’s request was filed in San Francisco. “The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the US Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech,” the company argued. It added that the government “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”.
Hats off and three thumbs up for Twitter Inc.!!!
Naturally, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) jumped into the fray: “We are pleased to see Twitter standing up for its users’ rights, and the ACLU will soon be filing documents in court on behalf of this user. To unmask an anonymous speaker online, the government must have a strong justification. But in this case the government has given no reason at all, leading to concerns that it is simply trying to stifle dissent.”
German officials identified Jews residing in Germany through census records, tax returns, synagogue membership lists, parish records (for converted Jews), routine but mandatory police registration forms, the questioning of relatives, and from information provided by neighbors and officials. That was before the day of Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and the blogosphere. If Trump & Co. are successful with this request, it will surely embolden them to expand their intrusiveness and before you can blink three times, every word we write will be subject to scrutiny by Big Brother.
This is where I left off writing this post last night. Less than an hour ago came this news:
U.S. Blinks in Clash With Twitter; Drops Order to Unmask Anti-Trump Account
“Customs and Border Protection on Friday withdrew its demand that Twitter unmask the anonymous account, a day after the social media company sued the government to block the summons. Because the summons is now withdrawn, Twitter voluntary dismisses without prejudice all claims against Defendants in the above-captioned matter.” – New York Times, 07 April 2017
And so, at least for the time being, the 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stands firm. I imagine it will be tested again before long, but for today, right won out over might, and I am pleased. Hats off to Twitter and let us hope that others in the social media establishment will follow suit.