Commentary

Twitter Cuts Off Data Access For Feds

Twitter continued to close off government access to its user data via third parties this week, this time at the federal level. According to the ACLU of California, Twitter stated that it has forced social media monitoring and analytics firm Dataminr to stop sharing information about users with federal government agencies, including organizations described by the ACLU as “domestic spy centers.”

Dataminr, which is partially owned by Twitter, had been sharing data with federally-funded “fusion centers” across the U.S. Numbering 77 in all, the fusion centers were created to pool and organize large amounts of data collected by local, state, and federal law enforcement and security organizations, in order to identify potential domestic terror threats based on a wide range of factors, including social media activity.

In practice, the ACLU claims the fusion centers have also singled out individuals for engaging in constitutionally protected political, religious, and artistic activity, including protests and journalism. The ACLU further discovered that Dataminr was sharing information including geospatial data, disclosing the location of users, with the federally funded JRIC fusion center in southern California, which in turn made the information available to the federal government and the Los Angeles Police Department, among others.

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Following the ACLU’s complaint, Twitter stated that Dataminr will no longer provide government clients with data that enables “any form of surveillance.” The decision will not affect Dataminr’s news alert service serving law enforcement and first responders, which provides updates on emergency situations without individual surveillance.

As noted in an earlier post, Twitter recently revealed that it blocked access to user data for Media Sonar, a Canadian firm that had been providing social media monitoring and analytics to police departments in the United States.

Twitter previously blocked access to user data for several other analytics firms over concerns about police surveillance, including Geofeedia and Snaptrends; Geofeedia subsequently cut its staff and announced a strategic repositioning of the company.
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