That was fast. Just a day after Twitter filed a suit in federal court to prevent government efforts to compel it to reveal personal information about one of its users, @ALT_uscis, which has been highly critical of the president, the government withdrew its summons and, later Friday, the social media giant dismissed its lawsuit.
“The speed with which the government buckled shows just how blatantly unconstitutional its demand was in the first place,” Esha Bhandari, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which represents the Twitter user. “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."
Twitter had received a faxed administrative summons in March from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) asking for account information, including login and associated phone number, court documents revealed. The suit alleged that the government request would impinge on the "right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech" guaranteed by the First Amendment.
The ACLU tweeted its support for Twitter's actions Thursday: "We're glad Twitter is pushing back. We'll be going to court to defend this user's right to anonymous speech."
Noting that "anonymous political speech has a proud place in American history, going back to the country's founding," including "the pseudonymous publication of the Federalist Papers," the Electronic Frontier Foundation had said in a statement that it had "called on companies to fight back against illegitimate or overbroad requests for user data, and to notify users of requests in all cases, unless specifically barred from law. Here, Twitter did both. We stand ready to help both Twitter and the user, and we hope other companies will follow their lead."
UPDATE: This story has been updated after the government decided to drop its request and Twitter consequently abandoned its suit.