Twitter has decided to bar U.S. intelligence agencies from a service that analyzes tweets and provides near-instant alerts of unfolding events, the Wall Street Journal reported May 8.
The service is provided by Dataminr, a private company in which Twitter owns an approximate 5 percent stake.
According to the report, the decision wasn’t publicly announced and was motivated by a fear of “seeming too close to American intelligence services.”
Twitter has a policy of preventing third parties from selling its data to government agencies for surveillance purposes and won’t comment on the two-year arrangement it had with the government.
According to the Journal, however, government agencies gained access to Dataminr’s service after it received an investment from In-Q-Tel, a company that describes itself as a not-for-profit created to “bridge the gap between the technology needs of the U.S. Intelligence Community and emerging commercial innovation.”
Rather than a traditional venture capital firm, it says it invests in companies that are already VC-backed.
Dataminr alerted the U.S. intelligence community to the Paris terror attacks as soon as they began and also alerted it to the Brussels attack 10 minutes ahead of news outlets, said the report.
The company offers four industry-specific products: News, Finance, Public Sector and Corporate Security. Clients of its Corporate Security product receive, for example, alerts about public safety threats, critical infrastructure issues, natural disasters, and protests and riots.
Twitter data “is largely public and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could,” Twitter said in a statement.
The move is the latest example of tensions between technology companies and the U.S. government that have intensified since former National Security Agency (NSA) contract employee Edward Snowden revealed the NSA PRISM data collection program.
Apple’s February pushback against an FBI request to unlock a terrorist’s iPhone dominated global headlines, became a politically divisive issue and raised questions about meeting points between government policy and fast-changing technologies that are likely to be eventually debated by the Supreme Court.
On March 21, the House Judiciary Committee announced the creation of an “encryption working group” that will examine the legal and policy issues surrounding encryption and identify potential solutions that “preserve the benefits of strong encryption—including the protection of Americans’ privacy and information security—while also ensuring law enforcement has the tools needed to keep us safe and prevent crime,” the committee said in a statement.