Twitter Denies US Government Access to Early Alert System

© AFP/File Leon Neal
© AFP/File Leon Neal

Twitter has allegedly denied the US government access to its real-time alert system, Dataminr, which is used to track breaking news stories, worldwide disasters, and terrorist attacks around the globe.

The service is used to “mine” tweets and online user information in order to find breaking stories and happenings around the world before they hit the news. “A tweet from a company employee laid off in a restructuring, for example, or a photo of the damage immediately after a terror attack taken by a survivor,” are examples of the service, according to Business Insider.

It was reported that the US government has been using Dataminr for two years despite a company rule in place that orders no user data to be sold to the state. Despite the claimed previous partnership, the US government has now been completely banned from using the service in any other way than what is available to the public.

Some are claiming that the move was made by Twitter in order distance itself from the government in a climate where tensions between technology companies and the state is at an all-time high, particularly after the FBI vs Apple stand-off.

“Post-Snowden, American-based information technology companies don’t want to be seen as an arm of the U.S. intelligence community,” claims Georgia Institute of Technology law professor Peter Swire.

However, some experts think the move is irrational and hypocritical.

“If Twitter continues to sell this to the private sector, but denies the government, that’s hypocritical,” said former deputy director of the NSA John C. Inglis. “I think it’s a bad sign of a lack of appropriate cooperation between a private-sector organization and the government.”

Though most of the private technology sector are paranoid and rightfully cautious about government collection of user data, an officer at the Kronos Advisory security consulting firm believes Twitter’s sudden move to be dangerous.

“The volume of [ISIS] activity on Twitter yields a vast amount of data that is a crucial tool for counterterrorism practitioners working to manage threats,” said Michael S. Smith II of Kronos Advisory. “Twitter’s decision could have grave consequences.”