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Twitter Will Probably Win Lawsuit Against Trump Administration, Experts Say

”As best I can tell, there is no crime here,“ says dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School, about Rogue Twitter Account Mocking Trump

Twitter is likely to beat the Trump Administration’s subpoena seeking the identities of government employees using a rogue Twitter account to anonymously criticize President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, an expert said.

“As best I can tell, there is no crime here,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine Law School and a First Amendment expert.  “Assuming I am correct, I think Twitter should win.”

Jennifer Stisa Granick, a law professor and Director of Civil Liberties at the Stanford Center for Internet and Society, agreed with Chemerinsky. “Twitter will win because the legal demand violates the First Amendment and was issued under improper legal authority,” she told TheWrap.

Twitter made the same point in its lawsuit filed on Thursday against the Trump Administration in San Francisco Thursday.

The lawsuit  argued that the government  subpoena seeking the identities of the creators of the @ALT_USCIS “Alt Immigration” twitter account was “unlawful” and violates the First Amendment.

As Twitter noted in its complaint, the Department of Homeland Security said it was seeking Twitter account documents under a federal law that penalizes the importation of merchandise without paying appropriate taxes, fees, and duties, a civil law called 15 U.S.C. section 1509.

But the federal government “could not plausibly establish that they issued the CPB summons . . . in any investigation or inquiry relating to the import of merchandise,” Twitter said.

The last time Twitter tangled with the government over releasing account information, Twitter lost and turned over account information to criminal prosecutors.

But in that 2012 case, the government sought account information for a Twitter user who used his real name in his Twitter account and had been accused of committing a crime during Occupy Wall Street demonstrations.

In contrast, there is no allegation of criminal violations in the case of Twitter v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In addition to calling the subpoena “unlawful” because it has nothing to do with enforcing federal merchandise law, Twitter also argued that the subpoena is “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.”

The Trump Administration is trying to find out who started a twitter account @ALT_USCIS  or “ALT Immigration,” which describes itself as “Official inside resistance” and includes a disclaimer that the account is “Not the views of DHS or USCIS,” the Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

In response to news of the Twitter lawsuit, @ALT_USCIS  posted the text of the First Amendment

The rogue Immigration Twitter account boasted that it gained 17,000 followers in 30 minutes after CNN aired a story about the Twitter lawsuit and the government subpoena. The account’s feed does not appear to publish any confidential government information. Instead, it is filled with jabs at Trump and political commentary.

In the weeks before the Homeland Security subpoena was faxed to Twitter on March 14 — demanding the documents by March 13 — the Alt Immigration account retweeted that “Trump’s new travel ban still singles out Muslim travelers without providing evidence of a national security threat” and used the hashtag “#MuslimBan.”

After the subpoena was served on Twitter, Alt Immigration tweeted, “Since people doubt our tax claims about undocumented immigrants, here is the sauce #MAGAshit table plus link item.org/itep_reports/2…” and then posted a chart prepared by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy showing that undocumented immigrants pay an estimated $11.6 billion in state and local taxes per year.

On Thursday night, after Trump ordered the bombing of an air facility in Syria, Alt Immigration tweeted: “And we are off to creating some new refugees! Missiles launched at Syria.”

Another recent tweet, Alt Immigration reported that the border wall will carry the hidden cost to the border states, requiring them to spend $4 billion “to build new roads to get concrete and steel to border wall,” adding the hashtag #NOWALL.

ALT Immigration followers jumped from 30,000 to 113,000 over the day during Thursday. President Donald Trump’s twitter account @realDonaldTrump has 27.4 million.

Twitter is asking a federal court to declare the subpoena unlawful and giving Twitter permission to ignore it.

After Trump’s election, several “Alt” twitters accounts for various government agencies popped up on Twitter to mock variety of new federal policies and executive orders.

Other rogue government twitter accounts include @AltNatParkSer, @RogueNOAA, @RogueEPAStaff, and @Alt_CDC, and @Alt_labor.

Since it was set up on Jan. 26, the @Alt_USCIS Twitter account has been tweeting criticisms of the government’s immigration plans and policies, including Trump’s planned border wall restricting travel between Mexico and the United States:

 

Twitter’s lawsuit said that “The rights of free speech afforded Twitter’s users and Twitter itself under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution include a right to disseminate such anonymous or pseudonymous political speech.

Twitter also said that the federal government can only compel Twitter to give up the identities of the account holders if it can show that they committed some criminal or civil offense, there is no other way to unmask them, the government is not trying to suppress speech, and the importance of the investigation outweighs “the important First Amendment rights of twitter and its users.

The “ALT Immigration” twitter account also chastised the Trump Administration trying to “unmask” its authors after the administration had allege that it was illegal for the Obama Administration to “unmask” or identify members of the Trump presidential campaign staffers who were inadvertently captured during government wiretaps of the Russian ambassador and others.

“Last week: Unmasking is outrageous when it comes to Russian collusion. Today: Unmask @alt_uscis because customs import code.”