Twitter Takes Stand vs. Use of Dataminr for Surveillance Purposes

Twitter refused to authorize the Dataminr program to sell user data to government agencies, noting that the governments call always review public data on their own.

Dataminr, a company dedicated to identifying breaking news on Twitter, made headlines recently for shutting down a pilot program to share Twitter data with U.S. intelligence agencies. Officially, Twitter’s policy of not selling data to the government was the reason for not renewing the program, but could this be Twitter doubling down on resisting data sharing with governments?

Twitter has maintained a firm stance against government data collection for some time, even going as far as filing suit against the government to allow its transparency report to be more transparent. CEO Jack Dorsey has also stated that he wants the platform to “empower organizations that bring more transparency to public dialog.”

While the pilot program between Dataminr and the CIA will not continue, government agencies would still be permitted access in non-surveillance capacities, a Twitter spokesperson told CNBC, saying:

We have never authorized a third party to sell data to an intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. Twitter data is largely public, and governments may review accounts on their own, like any user … For instance, if DHS (the Department of Homeland Security) wanted to buy Dataminr news alerts to surveil Black Lives Matter activists, we would decline. But if the DHS wanted to buy data to assist with disaster preparedness, (we) would permit that.

Spokespeople for the CIA criticized the ban, saying that tweets were “critical in providing indications of pending plots.” L. Gordon Crovitz, writing for The Wall Street Journal, contends that since Dataminr only identifies events and not users, the CIA should have access to that data for national security purposes.

However, the PRISM program also advocated for the large-scale collection of user data, anonymous or otherwise, in the name of national security, so it’s easy to see why Twitter wouldn’t want security agencies to access this information.

The mere existence of a program like PRISM has made privacy advocates wary of government attempts to work with companies when it comes to collecting data. We’ve seen companies update their infrastructure in the effort to keep the government away from user data following the demands to unlock the iPhone owned by the San Bernadino terror suspect.

The tweets Dataminr analyzes to generate its alerts are public in nature, so there isn’t anything to stop intelligence agencies accessing those through their own programs or through Dataminr. However, it seems that for Twitter, there is a line it does not want intelligence agencies to cross. Maintaining that line is something all social networks may need to do to protect their users.

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