The Justice Department under former President Donald Trump secretly obtained a grand jury subpoena in an effort to force Twitter to identify the owner of a Devin Nunes parody account, according to new court documents obtained by The New York Times.
The newly unsealed documents show that the Justice Department obtained a subpoena last fall requiring the company to identify the user behind @NunesAlt, a satirical account posing as Nunes’ mother. The DOJ also got a gag order preventing the company from discussing the case.
Twitter fought the subpoena, demanding the DOJ explain why it was necessary. The DOJ said it was part of a criminal investigation into whether interstate communications were used to injure or threaten someone but refused to cite any examples.
Twitter filed motions to quash the subpoena and lift the gag order. The case continued until March when the DOJ under President Joe Biden withdrew the subpoena.
Twitter calls out abuse:
Twitter’s attorneys raised questions about the subpoena, noting that the user “appears to be engaged in clear First Amendment activity, discussing stances on current events, government policies and one elected official in particular — Congressman Nunes.”
“As the custodian entrusted with the private identifying information that the government seeks, Twitter is concerned the subpoena may not be supported by a legitimate law enforcement purpose, and that therefore, there cannot be any need — let alone a compelling need — for the government to unmask the user,” Twitter’s lawyers said. “As such, Twitter asks that the court engage in a searching analysis of the government’s bases for issuing the subpoena in order to determine whether the subpoena violates the First Amendment and should be quashed.”
Subpoena came after Nunes lawsuit:
Nunes has also filed a lawsuit to sue the anonymous Twitter user for defamation but the social network has refused to identify them. A judge threw out a related complaint against Twitter, ruling that federal law protects social media companies from content posted on their platforms.
The grand jury was obtained by the office of acting DC US Attorney Michael Sherwin, an appointee of former Attorney General Bill Barr.
The user behind the account tweeted on Monday that there was “nothing remarkable about me.”
“So then why am I being sued by a US congressman? Why would the DOJ ever target me? Is it the mean tweets and bad memes?”
Twitter said in a statement it is “committed to protecting the freedom of expression for those who use our service. We have a strong track record and take seriously the trust placed in us to work to protect the private information of the people on Twitter.”