University of Michigan Law School
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Case Name Twitter v. U.S. Department of Homeland Security FA-CA-0013
Docket / Court 3:17-cv-01916 ( N.D. Cal. )
State/Territory California
Case Type(s) Presidential Authority
Speech and Religious Freedom
Case Summary
On March 14, 2017, Twitter received an administrative summons from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to provide records involving the specific identities of those operating under the @ALT_USCIS user account. In response, Twitter filed this lawsuit ... read more >
On March 14, 2017, Twitter received an administrative summons from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Customs and Border Protection (CBP), to provide records involving the specific identities of those operating under the @ALT_USCIS user account. In response, Twitter filed this lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on April 6, 2017, stating that the summons both exceeded CBP authority under 19 U.S.C. § 1509 and violated the First Amendment. Specifically, Twitter claimed that disclosing the requested information to CBP would likely unmask the person or persons using the @ALT_USCIS account, thereby violating the constitutional protections for anonymous and pseudonymous political speech. Twitter sought both injunctive relief and damages.

In the wake of the inauguration, several “alternative” rogue government agency accounts were created on Twitter. Spurred on by the unauthorized Badlands National Park tweets and social media limitations set by the Trump administration, some of this wave of new users identified themselves as current and past employees of the agencies they exemplified, and others as fans or supporters. The @ALT_USCIS account was created in late January 2017 and portrays the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), a unit within the Defendant DHS. @ALT_USCIS has tens of thousands of followers and frequently tweets critically against the Administration’s immigration policies and enforcement actions.

On April 7, 2017, CBP withdrew its summons. Twitter responded by voluntarily dismissing all claims against the Defendants.

Shortly thereafter, the DHS Office of Inspector General opened an investigation into: (1) whether the @ALT_USCIS investigation by the CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility was in any way improper, (2) whether CBP abused its authority in issuing the March 14, 2017 summons to Twitter, and (3) if there is broader misuse of summons authority at the DHS and/or its components.

DHS’s Office of Inspector General released the report on November 16, 2017. According to the report, "lack of clear guidance on the proper use of Section 1509 Summons has resulted in inconsistent—and in some cases, improper—use of such summonses." The report provided recommendations to ensure that CBP personnel are trained on the appropriate exercise of CBP’s examination and summons authority.

This case is now closed, though Twitter since filed a related challenge pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), seeking "records concerning demands from CBP and/or DHS that Twitter, Inc. (“Twitter”) provide them with information to identify the one or more persons using the Twitter account @ALT_uscis, an anonymous account critical of CBP." That case is currently pending in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, No. 18-cv-00155.

Amanda Grill - 05/25/2017
Virginia Weeks - 02/26/2018


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Issues and Causes of Action
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Issues
Constitutional Clause
Freedom of speech/association
Defendant-type
Law-enforcement
General
Records Disclosure
Plaintiff Type
Public (for-profit) corporation
Type of Facility
Government-run
Causes of Action Administrative Procedure Act, 5 U.S.C. §§ 551 et seq.
Declaratory Judgment Act, 28 U.S.C. § 2201
Defendant(s) U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Plaintiff Description Twitter, social media corporation
Class action status sought No
Class action status granted No
Filed Pro Se No
Prevailing Party Plaintiff
Public Int. Lawyer No
Nature of Relief None
Source of Relief None
Form of Settlement Voluntary Dismissal
Filing Year 2017
Case Closing Year 2017
Case Ongoing No
Docket(s)
3:17−cv−01916−JCS (N.D. Cal.)
FA-CA-0013-9000.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
General Documents
Complaint [ECF# 1]
FA-CA-0013-0001.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/06/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Plaintiff Twitter's Notice of Voluntary Dismissal Pursuant to Rule 41(a)(1) [ECF# 8]
FA-CA-0013-0002.pdf | Detail
Date: 04/07/2017
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Management Alert - CBP's Use of Examination and Summons Authority Under 19 U.S.C. § 1509 [ECF# 1-2]
FA-CA-0013-0003.pdf | Detail
Date: 01/24/2018
Source: PACER [Public Access to Court Electronic Records]
Judges Spero, Joseph C. (N.D. Cal.)
FA-CA-0013-9000
Plaintiff's Lawyers Carome, Patrick J. (District of Columbia)
FA-CA-0013-0001
Flanagan, Mark D (California)
FA-CA-0013-0001 | FA-CA-0013-0002 | FA-CA-0013-9000
Holtzblatt, Ari (District of Columbia)
FA-CA-0013-0001
Waxman, Seth (District of Columbia)
FA-CA-0013-0001

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