President Trump’s latest skirmish in his fight against federal employees engaging in mutinous social media activity seems to have ended in a draw. Actually, given that he’s battling people who work for him, this really should get chalked up as a loss for the Trump administration.
Here at RedState we’ve covered the so called alt-government Twitter accounts that have been springing up to criticize President Trump and his policies. These are federal employees who have started unofficial social media accounts for their respective agencies. There are alt-gov accounts for a whole gaggle of federal organizations and they exist only to defy the current administration and its policies.
The Department of Homeland Security demanded that Twitter provide them with the user information for the account claiming to be run by anonymous employee(s) from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Twitter responded with a lawsuit against the federal government. The ACLU also stepped in on the side of @ALT_uscis.
As revealed in Twitter’s lawsuit, the Department of Homeland Security demanded that the company provide the user data of the @ALT_USCIS account. Twitter’s defense: the First Amendment.
“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,” the lawsuit reads.
“Like many Twitter users, those who speak through these ‘alternative agency’ accounts do so pseudonymously, often going to considerable lengths to avoid disclosing their real identities,” the lawsuit continues.
Twitter’s argument extends to how providing user data for one account sets a precedent, similar to how if Apple had decided to break into the iPhone of the San Bernardino shooter for the FBI back in 2016.
The request of “permitting CBP to pierce the pseudonym of the @ALT_USCIS account would have a grave chilling effect on the speech of that account in particular and on the many other ‘alternative agency’ accounts that have been created to voice dissent to government,” Twitter wrote in the lawsuit.
The DHS withdrew it’s request for user data as a result of the lawsuit, leading to much gloating online and a huge spike in followers.
BREAKING: Trump administration backs down from unconstitutional push to unmask @ALT_uscis. Big victory for free speech and right to dissent.
— ACLU (@ACLU) April 7, 2017
— ALT-immigration 🛂 (@ALT_uscis) April 7, 2017
This is yet another story where I find myself at odds with both sides. On one hand, I agree that the federal government shouldn’t be able to demand that Twitter turn over user information for anonymous accounts. On the other hand, I don’t think alt-gov accounts qualify as truly anonymous. They are claiming to be representatives of the federal government even if they don’t identify themselves by name. The agencies they claim to represent should be trying to find out who they are and take necessary action, especially if those agencies deal with sensitive or classified information.
Federal employees engaging in clandestine efforts to undermine an administration they disagree with politically are making themselves into security risks. They put themselves at risk of blackmail like any other government official with a secret to keep.
Ultimately they have a responsibility to carry out the policies of whomever is President and whomever is in charge of their respective departments. Having worked as a federal employee I understand the frustration of working for a government you are politically opposed to, but federal worker bees aren’t paid to determine the political direction of their employers.
This anonymous defiance is cowardly and self serving.
That’s assuming they actually are people within the organizations they claim to work for. They might well just be random leftist agitators with no connection at all to the agencies they claim to be a part of.