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Twitter drops lawsuit against U.S. government to block unmasking critic account

Twitter filed suit against the U.S. government on Thursday in an effort to block the unmasking of an anonymous Twitter user who has been posting messages criticizing the government and current administration. That lawsuit didn’t last long: the social media platform withdrew the motion shortly thereafter, and the government itself pulled back on its original request to reveal the identity of the anonymous critic.

According to Twitter, it first received a notice from the government requiring it to reveal the identity of a Twitter user going under the handle @ALT_uscis. The account is allegedly one of several set up by people claiming to be ex-government employees or current employees, and is particularly critical of recent immigration policies.

Twitter argued that it was not compelled to reveal the identity of the account holder, and that the request was both unreasonable and unlawful. On top of that, Twitter suggested that unveiling the identity of the user would set a dangerous precedent for the freedom of speech of many so-called “alt-accounts” that have popped up over the past few months in resistance to U.S. government practices.

“A time-honored tradition of pseudonymous free speech on matters of public moment runs deep in the political life of America,” Twitter said in the filing. “These First Amendment interests are at their zenith when, as here, the speech at issue touches on matters of public political life.”

The lawsuit was the latest in an ongoing clash over digital privacy, an issue that has come up against the current administration and U.S. government before. The issue could eventually even rival the Apple vs FBI case from last year, in which the FBI asked Apple to unlock an iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter. After Apple refused, arguing that it set a dangerous precedent for future cases, the FBI found another way to hack into the phone without Apple’s help.

In this case, however, things didn’t go very far at all — likely because the Justice Department didn’t feel it had a strong case against Twitter, Reuters reports. As Jamie Lee Williams, a staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, told the publication, “[The case] seemed like a blatant attempt to censor or chill the people behind this account, or to retaliate against people who are speaking out against this administration. This could have been a huge loss for the administration in court.”

Article updated on 04-08-2017 by Lulu Chang: Added news that Twitter dropped its lawsuit after the government pulled its request for the unmasking of the anonymous critic. 

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