Watchdog Probing Customs’ Demand to Twitter

The agency had demanded that Twitter reveal the identity of those using an account to criticize Trump administration policies.
Matthew HellerApril 24, 2017
Watchdog Probing Customs’ Demand to Twitter

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s internal watchdog is investigating whether Customs and Border Protection improperly demanded that Twitter identify critics of the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

The demand for the identify of the owners of the Twitter account @ALT_uscis was withdrawn soon after the social media company filed a lawsuit on April 6 alleging CBP was attempting to suppress dissent. On April 7, Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) wrote the agency requesting that it conduct an internal review of its issuance of the summons.

DHS Inspector General John Roth confirmed in a letter to Wyden last week that he had opened an investigation.

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“DHS OIG is investigating whether the investigation conducted by CBP’s Office of Professional Responsibility relating to the @ALT_uscis Twitter account was improper in any way, including whether CBP abused its authority in issuing the March 14, 2017 summons to Twitter,” Roth wrote.

“DHS OIG is also reviewing potential broader misuse of summons authority at the Department and/or its components,” he added.

Roth’s office is responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse within Homeland Security.

As CNET reports, the @ALT_uscis account was created around the time Trump issued a January order restricting immigration, which was later blocked by courts. USCIS is the acronym of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, a division of Homeland Security.

“The use of ‘ALT’ with a government agency acronym has led many to assume government employees were behind the tweets,” Reuters said.

In its suit, Twitter accused the government of violating the First Amendment and political speech rights of its users and suggested that CBP’s authority to issue summonses is restricted to cases where the agency finds something suspicious with merchandise being imported.

Roth told Wyden that his office “has not played any role in attempting to identify the owner of the @ALT_uscis Twitter account,” adding that “we strive to ensure that our work does not have a chilling effect on individuals’ free speech rights.”