Sunday, April 9, 2017

On Twitter, the U.S. Government. Privacy and Free Speech

  • Last week, Twitter filed a lawsuit related to the U.S.  Department of Homeland Security’s request to reveal the identity for the anonymous account @ALT_USCIS, which posts comments about U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and Trump Administration immigration policies. The filing said “Adam Hoffman, an agent within U.S. Customs and Border Protection … [ordered] Twitter to produce certain records pertaining to the @ALT_USCIS account [and] Failure to comply with this summons will render you liable to proceedings in a U.S. District Court to enforce compliance with this summons as well as other sanctions.”  Twitter stated that “The CBP Summons is unlawful and unenforceable because it violates the First Amendment rights of both Twitter and its users by seeking to unmask the identity of one or more anonymous Twitter users voicing criticism of the government on matters of public concern.”
  • On Friday, the U.S. Government withdrew its action against Twitter and Esha Bhandari, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer representing the anonymous user said, "Speaking anonymously about issues of the day is a longstanding American tradition, dating back to when the framers of the Constitution wrote under pseudonyms … the anonymity that the First Amendment guarantees is often most essential when people criticize the government, and this free speech right is as important today as ever."
  • The US Constitution’s First Amendment says “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

  • The action against Twitter is another example of the prominent position that social media platforms have in the debate about free expression.  
  • While “free speech” and “personal privacy” have encountered legal challenges in the past, the actions by the current administration will likely keep the U.S. judicial system very busy.
  • Finally, it seems ironic that the use of Twitter’s messaging platform may play a role in affirming, or changing the path forward for U.S. constitutional law.

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