It is no secret that the tech world and lawmakers are not seeing eye to eye on all things. In particular, the topics of privacy, security and terrorism continually seem to be contentious points between the two camps. With tech companies looking to ensure they can maintain a level of privacy that is acceptable to their users, while law enforcement agencies look for any and all means to ensure citizens are protected. In what seems to be an extension of this battle between the two, Twitter has now reportedly removed one of the ways in which government agencies use the service to be kept informed on aspects which could be deemed a threat.
The details have yet to be confirmed but the information is coming from a recent report out of the Wall Street Journal, which in turn credits “a senior U.S. intelligence official and other people familiar with the matter.” According to those sources, Twitter has barred intelligence agencies from using Dataminr’s ability to scour its site. This is important to the government and law enforcement agencies as Dataminr provides alerts to information from Twitter which could be considered to be threat-worthy, political unrest or unfolding terror attacks being two such examples. The information gained from Dataminr emerges from patterns detected by its software and this information is then cross-referenced against other sources of collected data to assess its credibility.
In terms of this latest development and the sources quoted, Twitter is worried that they are appearing too friendly with intelligence services and as a means to distance themselves from such a perception, no longer want intelligent services to make use of Dataminr, a company which Twitter is a 5-percent stakeholder in. As such, it seems maintaining a more independent position within the highly polarizing issue of individual privacy / national security is by far more important to them in the present political climate. Although, in a Twitter statement reported by the Wall Street Journal, Twitter does seem to be making it clear that they are not standing in the way of the respective agencies from finding the information, but instead would prefer those agencies to not make use of such tools as Dataminr. With the statement reading “data is largely public and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could.”
As you might expect, it is unlikely that the intelligence services will look kindly at this latest move by Twitter and especially as they are already thought to be in the process of looking to establish a legal framework where tech companies are forced to provide relevant information upon request. Insight into how intelligence agencies are likely viewing this current development was provided by a former Deputy Director of the National Security Agency, John C. Inglis, who was quoted saying “If Twitter continues to sell this [data] to the private sector, but denies the government, that’s hypocritical.” Once again, it is important to keep in mind, that the reported banning of intelligence agencies ability to make use of Dataminr is still unconfirmed, as are any reasons as to why.