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Twitter Sues US Government Over Attempt To Unmask Anti-Trump Account (theverge.com) 248

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Verge: According to Twitter's suit, filed today in Northern California District Court, U.S. Customs and Border Protection has attempted to use a "limited-purpose investigatory tool" to unmask the owner of the Twitter account "@ALT_USCIS." The account, one of several "alt" or "rogue" government accounts that appeared in the wake of Trump's ascent to the presidency, was used "to express public criticism of the Department and the current Administration," according to Twitter's complaint. In the suit, Twitter writes that @ALT_USCIS has purported to be a dissenting member of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. On March 14, Twitter received a summons from Customs requesting records that could reveal the identity of the account's operator, including IP logs and any associated phone number or mailing address. In addition to the Department of Homeland Security and its subagency, the lawsuit names four individuals as defendants: DHS secretary John Kelly, acting CBP commissioner Kevin McAleenan, and special agents Stephen P. Caruso and Adam Hoffman, who issued and served the order itself.
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Twitter Sues US Government Over Attempt To Unmask Anti-Trump Account

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  • by jimmifett ( 2434568 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @04:46PM (#54187609)

    It seems that only now twitter is concerned about the free speech of it's users.

    Stop, this is too much. I can't take it anymore, I'm going to have liquids shoot out my nose from laughter.

    • by JoeyRox ( 2711699 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:09PM (#54187767)
      As a private corporation, Twitter is allowed to decide what its users are allowed to post on its service. As a public entity the government is not.
      • Vee's Law. Never fails
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?... [youtube.com]
      • by Anonymous Coward
        It is possible to be both legally in the right, and a hypocrite. Also, jimmifett never said they didn't have that right.

        Why is it that every time someone tries to talk about the concept of free speech, someone always has to try to shut them down by bringing up how the 1st Amendment does not apply to private corporations? It's irrelevant to the discussion. No one said they had a legal requirement to not censor, you people are always the first to bring up the 1st Amendment.
        • by xevioso ( 598654 )

          It's not irrelevant at all; it's the crux of the argument. The concept of free speech is NOT that you can say what you want without fear of reprisal. The concept in the US is ONLY that the government can't censor you based on your speech's content. That's it.

          That's why it's so easy and fun to run up to a bastard anti-abortion protester and smash their stupid anti-abortion placards into smithereens and rip out their flyers from their hand. They can sue me for destroying their property, but they can't do

          • You have that completely wrong. The concept of free speech is that NOBODY, including but not limited to the government, gets to tell me what I can and cannot say. Anything less is NOT freedom.
            • by z3alot ( 1999894 )
              What one sees as the "concept of free speech" is obviously dependent on your definition. If you are speaking of the free speech legislated in the first ammendment, it only protects the people from government, not from private individuals. In fact the only constitutional provision which limits the actions of private individuals is the 14th ammendment, which outlaws slavery.

              Now there could in principal be federal or local laws which somehow protect free speech from infringement by other private individuals
              • Nope, the 14th amendment did not outlaw slavery. It outlawed slavery without due process of law.

                Anyone who has been convicted of any crime, no matter how small, can be forced into slavery. In fact they can be bought and sold throughout their incarceration. This is not only legal, but it is standard practice in the US.
            • You have that completely wrong

              No you do.

              The concept of free speech is that NOBODY, including but not limited to the government, gets to tell me what I can and cannot say.

              No, they can SAY what they like, because they have free speech too. What they can't do is prevent you from speaking. Making you go elsewhere (i.e. not twitter) is not preventing you from speaking.

              Anything less is NOT freedom.

              The only people with the power to physically stop you is the government. If you're not being physically stopped, you

              • You can say whatever you want, as long as you don't say it where people can hear it? Yeah. That's what free speech means. NOT.
                • You can say whatever you want,

                  Yep.

                  as long as you don't say it where people can hear it?

                  You're making shit up, which is you right as a moron with free speech.

                  Yeah. That's what free speech means. NOT.

                  No, it really is. Free speech is not the same as forcing people to listen and to expend resources to give you a platform. Free speech is not the same as not being disinherited for being a wanker. Free speech means you won't go to prison for it.

                  That. Is. All.

                • by segin ( 883667 )
                  Does that mean I have the freedom to stand in your living room and scream at you that you're a mindless twat?
    • by negRo_slim ( 636783 ) <mils_orgen@hotmail.com> on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:18PM (#54187817) Homepage
      Yeah they wear their politics on their sleeve. Personally I'm not OK with purportedly neutral global communications platforms pushing such a political agenda. It's their right but people should be very wary of engaging in business with such a company.
      • by mjwx ( 966435 ) on Friday April 07, 2017 @08:42AM (#54190653)

        Yeah they wear their politics on their sleeve. Personally I'm not OK with purportedly neutral global communications platforms pushing such a political agenda. It's their right but people should be very wary of engaging in business with such a company.

        Well start your own then.

        If you dont like Twitter, dont use them. Even by the most European of Euro standards, Twitter is still a private organisation, not a public utility and not subject to carrier regulations.

        Realistically, I'd be more concerned that the government is trying to force Twitter to reveal the name of someone who is merely making fun of the government. We're not talking about threats or attacks, we're talking about parody here.

        • Twitter is still a private organisation, not a public utility and not subject to carrier regulations.

          But companies can't do whatever they want. They can't deny service to blacks or gays or whatever.

          Realistically, I'd be more concerned that the government is trying to force Twitter to reveal the name of someone who is merely making fun of the government. We're not talking about threats or attacks, we're talking about parody here.

          But the issue isn't the parody, but the fact it's a government employee.

          • All businesses establish acceptable conduct standards. It's perfectly legal to deny a potential customer service based on individual behavior.

            The government does not have arbitrary power to grab information or suppress free speech on the part of its employees.

    • It's a sad day when the companies like Twitter are fighting for the US Constitution. Any time a government employee attempts to break the constitution they should be charged with treason and dealt with accordingly. Anytime Congress or the President break it, it should be considered an act of war and dealt with accordingly.

      Time has proven again and again that the only thing the American government listens to is might. It's time to water the tree of Liberty.

      • Ironically, the Constitution defines treason. Doing something not legal according to the Constitution does not qualify.

    • Why do they need to care about their users? It is a burden on them, and they don't want to have to do it in cases where they shouldn't have been asked to do it.

  • shocked! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @04:47PM (#54187617)

    I'm shocked! Shocked to see the Trump administration abusing criminal investigative tools for political purposes.

    • I'm shocked! Shocked to see the Trump administration abusing criminal investigative tools for political purposes.

      Uh, yeah. If they really only want to see if it's an employee doing it on company time, then it's no longer "political". That's actually a crime for a federal government worker to do such. The only real problem would be if it's not a government worker and they harass him - at that point I'll be concerned.

      • Re:shocked! (Score:4, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 06, 2017 @04:57PM (#54187673)

        Seriously, it's a crime for federal employees to post to Twitter while on the clock?

        Someone should tell the president.

        • Re:shocked! (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Salgak1 ( 20136 ) <salgak.speakeasy@net> on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:01PM (#54187717) Homepage

          It is a crime to release official information without permission, And even more of a crime if it's sensitive or classified. There's this category of "For Official Use Only". . .

          • Re:shocked! (Score:5, Interesting)

            by rahvin112 ( 446269 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:21PM (#54187831)

            So?

            Maybe you don't understand, if this was a criminal prosecution they would have brought charges against a John Doe and applied for a warrant. Using the national security tool they are using (designed for foreign actors outside US jurisdiction) bypasses the requirement to obtain a warrant and avoids that nasty complication of proving the speech in question is NOT protected speech.

            Your blatant disregard of how this bypasses standard criminal procedures by waiving it away blatantly ignores that they are doing it this way so they don't have to get a subpoena and document why this speech isn't protected. Any time the wrong procedure is being used like this you can bet dollars to donuts the are abusing the process because what they are doing would have never met the requirements for a valid warrant. Don't cheer lead so hard that you ignore abuse of power.

          • And yet trump has done exactly that several times.

          • It is a crime to release official information without permission

            Fuck that bullshit. The law itself is wrong. Government secrecy is tyranny.

        • Seriously, it's a crime for federal employees to post to Twitter while on the clock?

          Someone should tell the president.

          The President is the President - he gets to define his job roles. For someone who's working in the federal government, unless posting to Twitter is part of their job description then it would fall under the "honest services fraud" statute. Remember the "3 crimes per day" number? That's part of what we're talking about.

          Regardless of whether it's a crime the government - like any employer - has every right to determine if employees are doing personal twitter during working hours and/or from work computers.

          • The President is the President? That dumb bitch works for me. He doesn't get that, but are you really too fucking stupid to understand it?
          • Ummm... no, he doesn't. Article II [cornell.edu] of the United States Constitution defines the President's job. Most prominently, he's the Commander-in-Chief of the U.S. Armed Forces. Considering the Pres is defined in the Constitution and most of the gov employee labor laws are subject to the Department of Labor... I would guess that Congress or the Supreme Court would be the only ones that could do any disciplinary action.

            It also says that the President isn't immune to being "removed from office" should he be found gui

      • Makes sense.

        By the way, we suspect you of being a government employee posting on /. during work hours. We've got a subpoena that requires you to hand over your computer, cell phones, hard drives, passwords to any online accounts you use, etc.

        We're just checking if you're a government employee, of course, so your data will be completely safe with us and there is no chance that we'll use anything else we may find against you.

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        It's not a crime for a government employee to post to Twitter while working. If it were, Trump would have been impeached multiple times by now.
        • Sorry, but you know the rules don't apply to the boss.

        • Um... no due to:

          1. Part of the presidents job description is talking to the people, this includes twitter

          2. The president isn't a "paid by the hour" job.

          That being said this job might allow various small breaks, and as long as he is not using government equipment he should be fine as far as conduct goes.

          The government might have a case if they think he is a threat to national security though. As you really don't want to take chances with someone who might bend the rules.

        • It's not a crime for a government employee to post to Twitter while working. If it were, Trump would have been impeached multiple times by now.

          Trump is President - he can make whatever rules he wants as the executive. I know it sounds like of funny how you said it, but it's also pretty stupid.

      • Re:shocked! (Score:5, Informative)

        by LetterRip ( 30937 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:03PM (#54187725)

        Uh, yeah. If they really only want to see if it's an employee doing it on company time, then it's no longer "political". That's actually a crime for a federal government worker to do such. The only real problem would be if it's not a government worker and they harass him - at that point I'll be concerned.

        They cited tax law on imports as the basis for the warrant.

        https://www.law.cornell.edu/us... [cornell.edu]

        How exactly are tweets criticizing the President related to investigate power for

        determining the liability of any person for duty, fees and taxes due or duties, fees and taxes which may be due the United States"

        Obviously there is zero relationship, and this is purely an attempt to abuse unrelated investigative powers for political purposes.

        • Uh, yeah. If they really only want to see if it's an employee doing it on company time, then it's no longer "political". That's actually a crime for a federal government worker to do such. The only real problem would be if it's not a government worker and they harass him - at that point I'll be concerned.

          They cited tax law on imports as the basis for the warrant.

          https://www.law.cornell.edu/us... [cornell.edu]

          How exactly are tweets criticizing the President related to investigate power for

          determining the liability of any person for duty, fees and taxes due or duties, fees and taxes which may be due the United States"

          Obviously there is zero relationship, and this is purely an attempt to abuse unrelated investigative powers for political purposes.

          Maybe they are investigating who is PAYING for this account? Who and what they are doing with money from somewhere?

          • Since when do you have to PAY for a Twitter account?
            • No. Who ever controls the account is being investigated by following the money. Maybe they are a paid troll? Or paid by some organisation that is being investigated? If it is for taxes it is for money. Could be tax free political money being spent on this troll account and against IRS rules?

          • Uh...last I checked, twitter accounts are free.

      • Re:shocked! (Score:5, Informative)

        by Frosty Piss ( 770223 ) * on Thursday April 06, 2017 @05:05PM (#54187741)

        That's actually a crime for a federal government worker to do such.

        So, as I sit here at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, in my cushy job as a C17 Mission Planner, you are telling me I'm breaking the law prattling on Slashdot? Is that why we have and Official Social Media Policy that talks about using Social Media on GOV computers? Oh, that's right, you don't work for the government and in fact have no idea what you are talking about.

        • That's actually a crime for a federal government worker to do such.

          So, as I sit here at McChord Air Force Base in Washington State, in my cushy job as a C17 Mission Planner, you are telling me I'm breaking the law prattling on Slashdot? Is that why we have and Official Social Media Policy that talks about using Social Media on GOV computers? Oh, that's right, you don't work for the government and in fact have no idea what you are talking about.

          If you have an official policy that allows you to do it, then it's likely not a problem as long as you stay within the policy. How do you know what the other departments are doing? Also, are the things tweeted from that account allowable under policy?

          It's impossible to make a blanket statement either way, but an employer does have a right to know if their employees are doing something not allowed on company time.

          • If you have an official policy that allows you to do it, then it's likely not a problem as long as you stay within the policy. How do you know what the other departments are doing?

            Because intertube policy is often written on paper and published as an official document. I know, right? Who knewâ¦

      • As a federal employee you are allowed "limited personal use" of your issued computer during work hours to do things like check your personal e-mail, read the morning news or send a quick tweet if you so choose.
      • Re:shocked! (Score:4, Interesting)

        by currently_awake ( 1248758 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @09:56PM (#54189051)
        If they were investigating a crime they would have gotten a warrant. Their goal is persecution, to make the (legal) criticism stop.
    • Time for a refresher on the current state* of speech restrictions promulgated by government-as-employer [volokh.com]. I think most people would understand that, when acting as an employer, the government has significantly more latitude than it would against a private citizen. At the same time, most people would understand that this lattitude has bounds of its own.

      So cribbing the major part of the link above (but do read the whole thing), the place that the court put that balance* is that the government may not fire an e

  • by laughingskeptic ( 1004414 ) on Thursday April 06, 2017 @06:21PM (#54188163)
    Section 241 of Title 18 is the civil rights conspiracy statute. Section 241 makes it unlawful for two or more persons to agree together to injure, threaten, or intimidate a person in any state, territory or district in the free exercise or enjoyment of any right or privilege secured to him/her by the Constitution or the laws of the Unites States, (or because of his/her having exercised the same). Unlike most conspiracy statutes, Section 241 does not require that one of the conspirators commit an overt act prior to the conspiracy becoming a crime. https://www.justice.gov/crt/co... [justice.gov]
  • >> the lawsuit names four individuals as defendants

    Nope, it names four individuals as plaintiffs. The defendant is as yet unknown.

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