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Twitter Blocks Government 'Spy Centers' From Accessing User Data (theguardian.com) 46

An anonymous reader quotes a report from The Guardian: Twitter has blocked federally funded "domestic spy centers" from using a powerful social media monitoring tool after public records revealed that the government had special access to users' information for controversial surveillance efforts. The American Civil Liberties Union of California discovered that so-called fusion centers, which collect intelligence, had access to monitoring technology from Dataminr, an analytics company partially owned by Twitter. The ACLU's records prompted the companies to announce that Dataminr had terminated access for all fusion centers and would no longer provide social media surveillance tools to any local, state or federal government entities. The government centers are partnerships between agencies that work to collect vast amounts of information purportedly to analyze "threats". The spy centers, according to the ACLU, target protesters, journalists and others protected by free speech rights while also racially profiling people deemed "suspicious" by law enforcement. Records that the ACLU obtained uncovered that a fusion center in southern California had access to Dataminr's "geospatial analysis application", which allowed the government to do location-based tracking as well as searches tied to keywords. That means the center could use Dataminr to search billions of tweets and monitor specific demographics or organizations.
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Twitter Blocks Government 'Spy Centers' From Accessing User Data

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  • No effect really (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Casualposter ( 572489 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @09:28AM (#53496579) Journal

    The agencies will simply create a corporation and have it do all of the data mining and then sell the information to the government for a fee. Not going to stop this behavior at all.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      Also, people need to understand that if they Tweet or publish anything else on the Internet or mobile phones, their data will be mined by many third parties. If they don't like that, they need to resort to more private p2p means of communication.
      • by Anonymous Coward

        ... private P2P means of communication.

        That requires a certificate server, which is susceptible to MitM attacks, or software that can automatically generate keys, send the public key to a recipient and double encrypt (receiver's public key and sender's private key) messages. For better security, a unique key can be assigned to each recipient. For some reason, open-source foundations are not developing this much-needed software library. Because servers need to access fields in the transport protocol, encryption can be implemented as middle-war

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Dataminr actually is a corporation that does data mining and sells the information to the government for a fee. From TFA:

      By giving government agencies access to these tools, Dataminr was also clearly violating Twitter’s policy prohibiting the use of its data for surveillance, according to the ACLU.

      Twitter forced a private company (of which they have only 5% ownership) to stop using the platform for spying. Presumably by threat of 'do this or we cut you off completely for violating TOS'. So yes, this really does make an impact.

  • by bickerdyke ( 670000 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @09:40AM (#53496619)

    Is anyone else slightly worried by this?

    Like... if government and law enforcement aren't allowed access to that data, who else are they having as customers at their datamining company?

    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2016 @11:29AM (#53497235)

      As someone who used to work in this industry, Twitter (through their third party data brokers) will happily sell this data directly to law enforcement and Homeland Security. They already do. The news here is that they cut off a third party who is buying the data, analyzing it, and selling results. There are many more vendors offering similar services, and the model will probably shift to get the data through the government instead of directly from Twitter as a result.

    • It sounds like it's only US government that's being kept away from the info. We can rest assured that other countries' spy agencies will continue to have full access.
  • Meaningless (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 16, 2016 @09:44AM (#53496635)

    Note how they didn't shut the operation down, they just cut off a few of the data subscribers. The analytics company is still running doing exactly the same thing and giving out exactly the same information.

    The article states Dataminr was in volition of Twitter's ToS. Was Dataminr blocked? Sued? Taken to court for the federal crime of unauthorized computer access (which happens to individuals when they break someone's ToS)? Nope. Dataminr and Twitter are still close friends. Twitter still gives it a live feed of all its data. Why care about laws then you're buddies with the people who decide how selective their selectively enforce will be? Something you do is illegal but you're friends with high people? No worries, you'll never be targeted. Those laws aren't for you while I stay in charge, best you help keep me here.

  • Stop please (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Impy the Impiuos Imp ( 442658 ) on Friday December 16, 2016 @10:12AM (#53496749) Journal

    The American Civil Liberties Union of California discovered that so-called fusion centers, which collect intelligence, had access to monitoring technology from Dataminr, an analytics company partially owned by Twitter.

    The English language already has a word for government information gathering fusion aggregation and analysis centers: panopticon.

    The most important guiding principle behind the design of the US constitution is not allowing the government to build the tools of tyranny to begin with. If it doesn't exist, it cannot be abused. That is the only principle that seems to work historically, and, more specifically, relying on "the vote" to prevent government from going into the dictatorial weeds has been shown full of failure in various historical democracies. Indeed, said vote more often than not is the end downfall as "emergency powers" are issued to a charismatic demagogue who never relinquishes it.

    No panopticons. And no emergency powers to use to build the panopticon's data gathering. Stop giving these things to government.

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