FBI Gains Access to “Firehose” of Twitter Data Despite Clear Violation of User Agreement

In the tradition of privacy, social media giant Twitter is in a predicament as FBI signs deal with DataMinr, a company that isolates Twitter data.

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FBI and Twitter data

Twitter has become one of the world’s most used communication services, causing federal law enforcement to seek out their help in capturing terrorists. The FBI entered into a contract this week with Dataminr, a data mining company that specializes in isolating Twitter data. This comes after Twitter had previously revoked the CIA’s access to the bulk data collection service, as it violated their user terms of service clause that prohibited mass surveillance by the government. This leaves Dataminr in a precocious position as their contract with the FBI also violates these same terms.

FBI and Twitter dataAccording to the FBI, Twitter scrutiny is essential as “Twitter is used extensively by terrorist organizations and other criminals to communicate, recruit and raise funds for illegal activity,” according to an FBI statement. As it stands, Twitter has made available an API that allowed the public to scan through around one percent of all Tweets posted. The FBI claims their need for data far exceeds the one percent the API allows, hence the need for Dataminr.

Dataminr is one of only a few handpicked companies given access to one-hundred percent of their real-time Twitter feeds. The company has the ability to set a wide variety of parameters to seek out specific data or users. It has been referred to as a “firehouse” of Twitter data. The FBI hopes to use this data to find patterns of behavior and communication to weed out these ‘terrorists.’ In May this year, Twitter revoked access to Dataminr and the CIA. They were obviously afraid of the public backlash and the apparent perception that they were in the CIA’s back pocket. Dataminr’s violation of terms of use, as they apply to their working with the FBI, are sure to come under scrutiny by Twitter, as this relationship is now becoming common knowledge.

FBI and Twitter data

They left the CIA and FBI off of their infographic.

Twitter’s terms of use state the following:

You will not knowingly: 1) display, distribute, or otherwise make available Content to any entity to investigate, track or surveil Twitter’s users or their Content, or to obtain information on Twitter users or their Content, in a manner that would require a subpoena, court order, or other valid legal process or that would otherwise have the potential to be inconsistent with our users’ reasonable expectations of privacy.
The mass collection and ability to search and scan patterns in the Twitter stream is a clear violation of these terms.

Once upon a time, people feared the government would come for their privacy and held everything under tight lock and key. Once social media services like Facebook and Twitter came along, people couldn’t wait to share their most intimate details with their friends and family, never realizing that their privacy was evaporating in the process.

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Twitter’s stand against the CIA shows promise for the safety of our private data, however, it is unclear what they will do to stop the FBI. “Data is largely public and the U.S. Government may review public accounts on its own, like any other user could,” Twitter stated in regards to their relationship with the CIA. The statement applies equally to the FBI’s new contract with Dataminr, so it will be interesting to see how they square this circle.

Sources: The Verge.


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