Oregon Senator Ron Wyden (D) on Friday sent a letter demanding to know on what grounds the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) — by way of Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) — attempted to force Twitter to reveal the identity of an anti-Trump user.
“The letter, addressed to acting commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin McAleenan,” wrote The Intercept’s Sam Biddle, “requests that the agency “conduct an internal review into why and how CBP issued the summons and report on the results of that review.”
Twitter sued the U.S. government on Thursday for violating its civil rights as provided for under the U.S. Constitution.
The government was forced to drop its bid to unmask Twitter user @ALT_USCIS, an account that features the voices of federal workers whose jobs have been downsized or eliminated under Trump.
United States Senate
COMMITTEE ON FINANCE
WASHINGTON, DC 20510-6200
April 7, 2017
Kevin K. McAleenan Acting Commissioner
U.S. Customs and Border Protection 1300 Pennsylvania Ave. NW Washington, DC 20229
Dear Acting Commissioner McAleenan:
I am gravely alarmed by the summons that Customs and Border Protection (CBP) transmitted to Twitter on March 14, 2017, regarding the Twitter account @ALT_USCIS. Not only was the summons blatantly inconsistent with the cited investigatory authority, section 509 of the Tariff Act of 1930 (19 U.S.C. § 1509), but it appeared to be a disturbing threat to free speech and whistleblower protections. Notwithstanding the withdrawal of the summons on April 7, 2017, I request that you conduct an internal review into why and how CBP issued the summons and report on the results of that review.
CBP has certain investigatory powers related to its enforcement of U.S. trade laws, but the summons at issue does not relate to such enforcement. I am a strong proponents of aggressive enforcement of our trade laws. Section 509 of the Tariff Act is among the important investigatory powers CBP uses to execute this critical function. Under that authority, CBP can issue a summons to parties who possess records related to the importation of merchandise into the United States to ensure that appropriate duties and fees have been paid and that all U.S. trade laws have been complied with.
According to a complaint filed by Twitter, the summons at issue requested that Twitter produce “[ a]11 records regarding the [T]witter account @ALT_users to include, User names, account, login, phone number, mailing addresses, and I.P. addresses.” The Twitter account:
@ALT_users currently describes itself as “Immigration resistance . Team 2.0 ½ Not the views
of DHS or USCIS. Old fellow drank russian soup. #altgov.”
The account appears to comment on U.S. immigration policy and other current events, often critical of the current administration.
On its face, CBP’s request for information on the @ALT_USCISTwitter account appeared completely unrelated to the authority cited for the summons. Even more concerning is the possibility that CBP requested this information to learn if the accountholder(s) are employed by the Department of Homeland Security in order to take retaliatory action or otherwise squelch the exercise of First Amendment right to comment on U.S. policy, and to make those comments anonymously. If that is the case, it raises serious concerns regarding potential violations oflaw that must be promptly addressed by CBP.
I know that you have long history of distinguished service in CBP and that you care about its integrity and mission. I hope that you will take swift action to investigate the circumstances that led to the issuance of the summons, including whether the decision involved executive branch officials outside of CBP. I look forward to discussing the results of that review.
Ron Wyden Ranking Member