Twitter cuts off access to data that could be used for surveillance

Twitter will no longer provide government intelligence centers with tools that could be used for surveillance. 

Prior, Dataminr, a social media-monitoring service which is partly owned by Twitter, granted fusion centers access to a real-time feed of public tweets and tools for filtering. 

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The decision follows an investigation into how law enforcement used the tool to track activists and protests by the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California (ACLU), which shared the news via a blog post Thursday. 

Twitter has had a longstanding policy that prohibits its data from being used for surveillance. Yet, the ACLU reported that a Los Angeles-area government spy center had access to a geospatial intelligence tool from Dataminr that enabled it to search tweets by keyword and track locations, and was used to monitor people. 

"Using Dataminr, fusion centers like JRIC could search billions of real-time and historical public tweets and then potentially share information with the federal government," Nicole Ozer, the technology and civil liberties policy director at the ACLU of California, wrote in the blog post. 

Earlier this week, the ACLU received a letter from Twitter that shared the steps Dataminr has taken to rework its service and put forth a larger commitment to no longer provide these tools to any local, state or federal government entities. 

Government customers will now only receive tailored breaking news alerts that are based on public tweets rather than direct access to tweets and other data. 

"Dataminr is committed to privacy and civil liberties protections. We have worked closely with Twitter to modify our product and incorporate feedback that ensures the strongest safeguards are in place for people who use Twitter," Dataminr said in a statement included in the letter from Twitter.

The development follows earlier moves by Twitter to remove access to Geofeedia and Snaptrends

"We will continue to work with developers, as we have with Dataminr, who show a commitment to improvement and transparency to address concerns," Colin Crowell, Twitter's VP of global public policy, wrote in a letter. "Where appropriate, we will also take more aggressive measures including suspension of access."

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