Legal Issues

by Mike Masnick


Filed Under:
alt_uscis, cbp, customs, dhs, rogue tweeter

Companies:
twitter



Homeland Security's Inspector General Investigating Attempt To Unmask 'Rogue' Tweeter

from the so-much-to-investigate dept

As you probably recall, a few weeks ago Twitter sued Homeland Security after it received a summons from Customs & Border Patrol seeking to identify any information about the @ALT_uscis account. USCIS is the US Citizenship and Immigration Service, and the "alt" part is similar to many other such accounts purporting to be anonymous insiders in the government reporting on what's happening there (whether or not the operators of those accounts truly are inside those organizations is an open question). Anyway, the issue here is that such a use of Twitter would be protected by the First Amendment, and unless the account was revealing classified info, it's unlikely that there would be any legit means to investigate who was behind the account. And, because of that, it certainly appeared that Customs and Border Patrol decided to use illegitimate means to get the info. Specifically it sent a 19 USC 1509 summons, which is an investigative tool for determining the correct duties, fees or taxes on imported goods. As you can see, identifying a Twitter user does not seem to fit into what that law is for.

Having been called out on this in federal court (and, one hopes, having DOJ lawyers chew out DHS/CBP folks), the feds dropped the summons hours later and Twitter withdrew the lawsuit.

However, abusing the law to seek out information like that is a pretty major abuse, and is one that shouldn't just let everyone move on afterwards without some sort of accountability. Senator Ron Wyden asked Homeland Security's Inspector General if it was investigating this and, in a fairly straightforward and open letter, DHS IG, John Roth, lets Wyden know that an investigation is ongoing and even clarifies what they are investigating and why. The letter itself is pretty clear, so I'll just post a chunk of it here:

While we typically do not comment on open investigations, it has come to my attention that there may be some confusion about the scope of DHS OIG’s work relating to this matter. Specifically, we have been asked to clarify which, if any, of the following three issues we are investigating:

(1) Misconduct on the part of the owner of the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account, who CBP suspected was a DHS employee;
(2) CBP’s use of its summons authority in this particular case; and
(3) Use of summons authority across the Department.

Regarding the first issue, we were asked by CBP to assist their efforts to determine whether the tweets at issue disclosed any classified information. To that end, we helped CBP pull the content of @ALT_USCIS’s tweets off the internet and cross-reference that content against data in DHS systems to determine whether the information was classified. We have concluded that no classified information was released via the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account.

I’d like to make clear that DHS OIG has not played any role in attempting to identify the owner of the @ALT_USCIS Twitter account, and only learned of the issuance of the March 14, 2017 summons when it was reported in the media. Our investigation protocol includes controls for situations in which First Amendment activity is implicated, and we strive to ensure that our work does not have a chilling effect on individuals’ free speech rights. I can confirm that DHS OIG is not investigating, and will not investigate, any alleged misconduct on the part of the @ALT_USCIS account owner relating to his or her use of the Twitter account.

Regarding the remaining two issues, I can confirm that 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. DHS OIG is also reviewing potential broader misuse of summons authority at the Department and/or its components.

That's pretty clear and makes sense. They looked and found no classified info being revealed, they've been careful to not seek any other way of identifying the owner of the account, or to do anything that might chill speech, and they are actively investigating if CBP abused its authority (beyond just this one case). I look forward to find out the results of that investigation.


Reader Comments

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2017 @ 5:11am

    Holy Crap

    A government response that actually makes sense. This can't possibly continue or the precedent will cause chaos.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Magic Eight-ball, 24 Apr 2017 @ 5:30am

    *shake shake*

    "The results of the investigation will be a determination that no wrongdoing occurred."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2017 @ 6:40am

      Re: *shake shake*

      ... and a other paid vacation followed up with a promotion.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2017 @ 7:02am

      Re: *shake shake*

      Agree -- the Federal bureaucracy will whitewash all this, with zero accountability.

      It is a well-practiced & successful art. Put no trust in government "Inspector General" offices -- they work directly for the agency heads, and have no real power or desire to go against their bosses in countering agency wrongdoing.

      ________________________


      :: "... it certainly appeared that Customs and Border Patrol decided to use illegitimate means to get the info. Specifically it sent a 19 USC 1509 summons..." ::


      .... NO, the "CBP" did NOT decide to send the summons -- a very specific human being (and his boss) in the CBP did that !
      The summons was signed by a specific person -- but notice how that guilty bureaucrat's name is carefully 'unmentioned' in all this discussion. That is standard government cover-up procedure -- malicious government employees hide behind their agency name, rather than correctly being singled out. The media lapdogs go along with this deception.

      Senator Wyden should have directly contacted/visited the CBP person who signed the summons -- and demanded answers about its authority. Instead, Wyden follows his usual plodding approach of adhering timidly to Federal bureaucratic protocols in seeking answers -- protocols designed to thwart any real bureaucrat accountability.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2017 @ 6:53am

    Can these people not understand the difference between wanting to own what you, (or your parents) payed for, and wanting to rob other people. I am sure most kids know the difference.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 24 Apr 2017 @ 7:32am

      Re:

      "I am sure most kids know the difference."

      Wrong, most adults don't even know the difference.

      Government taxes are nothing other than a legalized racket that citizens agree to have for "protective" purposes.

      Taking a gun to a bank and threatening to shoot until you get paid is no different than Government saying pay us taxes or we send people with guns to collect them.

      Its the same reason that voting to take someone's taxes because they are rich makes you just as immoral as the rich robbing the poor blind!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Roger Strong (profile), 24 Apr 2017 @ 7:48am

    Perhaps they should consult one of those British experts who "understand the necessary hashtags."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    David (profile), 24 Apr 2017 @ 1:47pm

    Lighten up guys and gals.

    This seems like some minor dweeb that wanted to get in the promotion chain.

    Original thought process: Ooh, look at this. If I send this totally not connected form to Twitter they will respond because they are a big company and will do whatever the government wants.

    Current thought process: Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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