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Twitter fined $350K for taking too long to hand over January 6th data

Twitter fined $350K for taking too long to hand over January 6th data


The DOJ special counsel filed a search warrant earlier this year, which Twitter belatedly tried to fight.

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Illustration by Alex Castro / The Verge

Elon Musk’s Twitter was fined $350,000 for refusing to comply with a search warrant on Donald Trump’s Twitter account earlier this year, according to new court documents unsealed Wednesday. The warrant was issued as part of a Justice Department special investigation.

In January, special counsel Jack Smith obtained a search warrant for former President Trump’s Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, as part of his investigation into Trump’s role in interfering with the peaceful transfer of power after the 2020 presidential election.

X did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The unsealed opinion says Twitter, which is now known as X, objected to producing the information demanded in the warrant on February 1st, arguing that its accompanying nondisclosure order was invalid under the First Amendment. The objection came four days after the court-ordered deadline requesting that the district court assess whether the nondisclosure was legal before handing over the warrant’s requested material.

The Justice Department declined to comment.

On February 2nd, X moved to vacate the nondisclosure order, saying that it “violated the company’s First Amendment rights to communicate with its subscriber, former President Trump.” At a February 7th hearing, the court found X in contempt but offered the company the chance to purge that finding if it provided the requested materials by 5PM that evening.

X missed that deadline, according to the unsealed documents. The company sent over some records, but “its production was incomplete.” It wasn’t until February 9th that X handed over all of the records requested by the government. The company was fined $350,000 for missing the deadline, which was upheld by a federal court last month.

The opinion describes how difficult it was for the Justice Department to serve X the warrant. Prosecutors tried to contact X through its website for legal requests on January 17th “only to find out that the website was inoperative.” The warrant was successfully served on January 19th, but when prosecutors tried to check in on its status days later, Twitter’s counsel said she was not aware of the warrant.

It’s still unclear what information prosecutors sought to receive through the warrant. After the conclusion of the 2020 presidential election, Trump used his Twitter account to call the results into question. Leading up to the deadly January 6th attack on the Capitol, Trump continued to promote false allegations of election fraud and asked supporters to travel to Washington, DC, for a rally that evolved into a riot. He was ultimately banned from the platform two days later.

After buying the company last year, Musk reinstated Trump’s account in November. The former president has yet to post from it, opting to use his own platform, Truth Social.