Twitter Caves To ACLU, Jeopardizes Safety By Limiting Data To Law Enforcement Fusion Centers

twitter caves to aclu, jeopardizes law enforcement fusion centers

Twitter Caves To ACLU, Jeopardizes Safety By Limiting Data To Law Enforcement Fusion Centers

Twitter has decided to side with the ACLU on restricting access to a “breaking news” tool developed to significantly help prevent crimes and assist first responders.  

Dataminr, an analytics specialist company which is partially owned by Twitter, is capable of sending real-time alerts to corporations and news organizations based on various data.  Last week, Twitter responded to the ACLU demands for restrictions on the data. Law enforcement will receive the breaking news alerts but will no longer support direct access to any of geospatial intelligence data that is sold to police intelligence centers which are also known as fusion centers.

77 fusion centers were put in place after the terrorist attacks on September 11th, 2001.  Local law enforcement monitored all data as part of a local-state-federal partnership.  The centers are owned and operated by local public safety departments, according to Mike Sena, the president of the National Fusion Center Association.  The FBI announced last fall that it signed a contract to use the fusion center services to “search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.”  According to documents in the contract, “Twitter is one of the primary platforms where breaking news and events appear. Consequently, the FBI needs near real time access to the full universe of tweets on a daily basis in order to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions.”
The ACLU believes the use of the social media surveillance with the full blown capabilities of searching for threatening language, photos of weapons, and crimes in progress, could infringe upon individual rights.  The data collected has helped get police to scenes quickly, save lives, identify witnesses and collect valuable evidence that they may not have been able to without access to this information.  However, according to the ACLU, “These domestic spy centers—local-state-federal partnerships that aim to collect and analyze vast amounts of information to connect the dots about “threats”—have a history of sweeping in constitutionally protected political, religious, and artistic activity.”
The world has witnessed a rise in real-time crime, from “Live” feeds, to Tweets second by second during crimes and this technology is incredibly important for law enforcement in our changing climate.  To restrict access to law enforcement based on issues of ‘suspected profiling’ is irresponsible at best.  The need for inter-agency communication and a conduit between first responders, local law enforcement and homeland security agencies is great.  Sena argues that without the technology and access, “all we’re doing is playing cleanup to disasters.”
Numerous success stories have surfaced as a result of the fusion centers and their collaboration with local, state and federal law enforcement.  One such case was as recently as 2015, when the fusion centers were able to track down human trafficking victims.  The ACLU has argued that Dataminr will enable the FBI to surveil individuals, in violation of Twitter’s rules, using the product’s geospatial analyses application to law enforcement, which could base searches on location, keywords, and demographics.

“We already know that government use of social media surveillance has expanded rapidly and has been used to target people of color and activists,” Nicole Ozer of the ACLU of Northern California said in a statement. “Now Muslim and Latino community members are facing significant threats, important political and social activism is on the rise in areas across the country, and President-elect Trump is poised to hold the keys to the vast and powerful federal surveillance system. It has become more important than ever to protect against an expanding web of surveillance.”

The ACLU claims concern for protesters, journalists or people of color who may be “profiled”.  They refer to the fusion centers as “spy centers,” and claim innocent people are targeted.  The investigation by the senate in to the responsible nature of the program also found, “The investigation found that DHS intelligence officers assigned to state and local fusion centers produced intelligence of “uneven quality – oftentimes shoddy, rarely timely, sometimes endangering citizens’ civil liberties and Privacy Act protections, occasionally taken from already-published public sources, and more often than not unrelated to terrorism.”

Sena argues that the decision from Twitter has, “basically blindfolding us to the ability to identify threats.”  He also pointed out that such technology helped identify the Anti-American rant of the terrorist who stabbed multiple people last month at the University of Ohio.

Watch Sena’s Full Statement Here

We can all agree that new technology is necessary to keep up with the progressing technology related to crime.  What do you think is the best way to leverage the technology to meet law enforcement’s needs?  Share your thoughts in the comments.

  • Highest common denominator

    Twitter is a service, not a government agency. They should hold their own ability to limit information to whoever they please.

  • REALConservative

    Turnabout is fair play.

    Law enforcement balks at legal requests for information that should be public, so they shouldn’t be surprised when there is pushback.