The legal battle between Twitter and the U.S. government ended Friday as the Department of Homeland Security withdrew its demand that the tech company release information to identify an account holder whose tweets have been critical of President Trump.
The lawsuit threatened to become a major battle between Silicon Valley and Washington over free speech. But it was over almost before it began. The social networking site filed a lawsuit Thursday to protest the order, saying that it violated the user’s First Amendment right to free expression. But Twitter dropped its suit Friday, saying in a court filing that because “the summons has now been withdrawn, Twitter voluntary dismisses without prejudice all claims.”
The DHS did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Legal experts said Twitter would have had a strong case had it gone to court because the government had not provided compelling information on why it was necessary to identify the critic.
The government, to enforce its subpoena, would have had to demonstrate that whoever is behind the Twitter account was likely to be violating some law. There also were questions about whether the type of subpoena used, which is typically for investigating violations of trade rules, was appropriate for the type of case the DHS was probing, experts said.
“This is just, as best as I can tell, the government trying to figure out who is expressing criticisms, and that is chilling,” said Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center.
If the goal was to quiet the dissent, it seems to have failed. The number of followers for the Twitter account grew from “over 32,000” to more than 150,000 in less than 24 hours.