Twitter blocks access to analytics around its data for US intelligence agencies

Twitter has blocked Dataminr from offering analytics around real-time tweets from the social networking site to U.S. intelligence agencies, according to a newspaper report.The social networking company, which provides Dataminr with real-time access to public tweets, seems to be trying to distance itself from appearing to aid government surveillance, a controversial issue after former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the government was collecting information on users through Internet and telecommunications companies. Executives of Dataminr told intelligence agencies recently that Twitter, which holds around 5 percent of the equity in the startup and provides the data feed, did not want the company to continue providing the service to the agencies, reported The Wall Street Journal on Sunday, quoting a person familiar with the matter. Twitter’s move appears to be in line with its policy with regard to the use of its data like tweets by external companies. “Dataminr uses public Tweets to sell breaking news alerts to companies such as Wall Street Journal parent Dow Jones and government agencies such as the World Health Organization, for non-surveillance purposes,” Twitter said in a statement Sunday. “We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes.” U.S. intelligence agencies have gained access to Dataminr’s service after In-Q-Tel, a venture capital organization backed by U.S. intelligence agencies, put money in the firm, WSJ said quoting a person familiar with the matter. Twitter is said to have conveyed to Dataminr that it didn’t want to continue the relationship with intelligence agencies at the end of a pilot by the data analysis firm arranged by In-Q-Tel. Dataminr does not figure in the list of In-Q-Tel portfolio companies on its website. Intelligence agencies are increasingly monitoring social media as some services like Twitter are widely used by terrorist organizations like the Islamic State group. A former deputy director of the NSA, John C. Inglis, told the WSJ that Twitter was engaging in double standards, by declining to offer intelligence agencies the data that is available to the private sector. Dataminr, which mines real-time data from Twitter and other public sources into relevant information or “actionable signals” for a variety of customers including newspapers, hedge funds, investment banks, and other corporations, has been reported in the past as working with law enforcement agencies to help them monitor tweets and other data sources for potential criminal and terrorist threats. Dataminr in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment over the weekend. Twitter is quite rightly declining to serve as an extension of U.S. spy agencies, wrote Jameel Jaffer, deputy legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union in a tweet. Source: pcworld.com

Twitter bars spy agencies from analytics service that spots terror attacks

Microblogging platform Twitter has stopped off US law enforcement and intelligence services from using a data analytics service which is able to process and analyze the platform’s tweets and messages. On Sunday, a senior US official and other people close to the matter told the Wall Street Journal that Twitter’s move, while not made public, has underlined the growing tension between technology companies and the US government. The analytics service in question is not a direct offering by Twitter. Instead, Dataminr is a private firm which mines feeds and communication on Twitter for use by clients. Twitter does own a five percent stake in the company, but as Dataminr counts US law enforcement as a client, Twitter has become concerned about being seen as too close or cozying up to federal agencies — a concept which could seriously impact user trust. Over the past few years, tech firms have butted heads with US law enforcement and lawmakers over a range of issues including terrorism, encryption and privacy. Apple was most recently embroiled in a fight with US agents over breaking into an iPhone, Microsoft is fighting a warrant issued by the US Department of Justice (DoJ) requiring the tech giant to hand over email content, and Google has backed Apple in the debate against enforced mobile device backdoor installation for US intelligence purposes. Peter Swire, a Georgia Institute of Technology law professor on data privacy told the publication: “Post-Snowden, American-based information technology companies don’t want to be seen as an arm of the US intelligence community.” Twitter does appear to be one of these companies. Snowden’s disclosures had impact far beyond scrutiny of the US National Security Agency (NSA)’s practices, and has sparked debate on whether the average user has a right to privacy, whether encryption — which can be difficult for law enforcement to tackle — should be offered by device vendors — and how companies can preserve basic security without intentionally making products vulnerable for the benefit of intelligence. The microblogging platform says it has a long-standing policy which does not allow data to be sold to government agencies for spying purposes, and although Dataminr may have given US intelligence information for some time, the millions of tweets and messages sent every day across Twitter will now have to be reviewed by another means if the agency wishes to mine the platform. Dataminr’s capabilities can give intelligence agencies a valuable heads-up in some scenarios. For example, the company alerted the US to the Paris terror attacks as they unfolded, and other clients received word of Brussels roughly 10 minutes before mainstream media began reporting on the attacks. Twitter is one of many social media outlets used by threat groups including IS to communicate — and so investigators into the fantastical group will always gravitate towards these outlets to keep an eye on them — but this data is generally public and is still up for grabs by government groups if they wish to use it. However, perception is reality — and Twitter being seen to help intelligence agencies spy on users would do the company no good in the public’s gaze. Source: zdnet.com

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