News Stay informed about the latest enterprise technology news and product updates.

U.S. intelligence agencies cut off from Twitter firehose

Twitter ordered its business partner Dataminr to cut off the Twitter firehose feed access for U.S. intelligence agencies, but experts expect the NSA won't miss much.

Twitter has asked its business partner Dataminr to stop providing U.S. intelligence agencies with access to the...

Twitter firehose feed because the social media giant doesn't want to be associated with government surveillance.

Dataminr has access to the firehose -- the full stream of all tweet activity -- but Twitter, which owns a 5% stake in Dataminr, ordered that the National Security Agency (NSA), CIA and other government intelligence agencies be cut off from that data.

Twitter released a statement asserting this was nothing new and Dataminr shouldn't have allowed access in the first place.

"Dataminr uses public tweets to sell breaking news alerts to media organizations, such as Dow Jones, and government agencies, such as the World Health Organization, for nonsurveillance purposes," Twitter said. "We have never authorized Dataminr or any third party to sell data to a government or intelligence agency for surveillance purposes. This is a longstanding Twitter policy, not a new development."

John Inglis, a former deputy director of the NSA, told The Wall Street Journal this move was indicative of the troubled state of cooperation between the private sector and the government.

At the time of this publication, none of the parties involved -- Twitter, Dataminr, the NSA or the Department of Homeland Security -- had responded to requests for more detailed answers on the event.

Rebecca Herold, CEO of Privacy Professor, said the move might have been related to personally identifiable information (PII) in the Twitter firehose or to international laws.

"Twitter Terms of Service indicate that they do 'not disclose personally identifying information to third parties except in accordance with our privacy policy.' The type of big data analysis that Dataminr provided may have resulted in such revelations of PII, and so when this data was shared with others, [it] could have violated their own privacy promise," Herold said. "Also, the Twitter rules indicate that Twitter cannot be used 'for any unlawful purposes or in furtherance of illegal activities.' With new privacy laws worldwide, and also the new General Data Privacy Regulation in the EU, they may have determined that doing such big data analysis violated some international data protection laws."

Gabe Gumbs, vice president of strategy for Identity Finder LLC in New York, said the public nature of Twitter does limit its value to terrorists.

"Criminals use Twitter for a variety of nefarious activity. Terrorists are known to use Twitter for spreading propaganda and recruiting. Hackers have used the platform for command and control communications of botnets," Gumbs said. "Twitter is no more attractive than, say, Facebook for criminal activity; nonetheless, it is used. The government has a legitimate interest in access to posts made on Twitter and have been able to use information from Twitter during criminal and terrorist investigations."

However, Herold noted that U.S. intelligence agencies likely have other ways to gather data from Twitter without access to the firehose.

"The NSA certainly could create their own big data analytics program -- they probably have already done so -- to scrape the tweets and perform their own analysis," Herold said. "They have access to all the public tweets just like everyone else, and they certainly have the resources to do this."

Gumbs agreed, but said there is a big difference between the public APIs for Twitter and access to the Twitter firehose.

"The difference between the streaming API and firehose is that the streaming API only filters based on defined filters. An example would be an intelligence agency filtering post, in real-time, that had the phrase 'dirty bomb' in the post. All other posts would not be captured," Gumbs said. "The firehose, in contrast, gives access to every single post made in real time, allowing that information to be saved and searched at a later time, fed to another system for correlation and generally allows for anything to be done with the data."

Next Steps

Learn more about the effects of the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

Find out if government surveillance is going too far.

Get tips on how to protect corporate data from government surveillance.

Dig Deeper on Information security policies, procedures and guidelines

PRO+

Content

Find more PRO+ content and other member only offers, here.

Join the conversation

4 comments

Send me notifications when other members comment.

By submitting you agree to receive email from TechTarget and its partners. If you reside outside of the United States, you consent to having your personal data transferred to and processed in the United States. Privacy

Please create a username to comment.

Do you think intelligence agencies should have access to the Twitter firehose? Why or why not?
Cancel
Twitter's bragging about cutting the government off from their firehose informs terrorists that Twitter is now an even better way to communicate. "Increased chatter" is one of the prime warnings of an impending terrorist attack - thanks to Twitter, terrorists can now communicate without their increased chatter warning of an attack
Cancel
If I understood correctly, "firehose" tracked only public tweets. Since DM's aren't covered does that even matter?
In any case, would any serious organization rely on Twitter for communications for preparation of an attack??
Cancel
My concern is, that real terrorists are unlikely to tweet publicly and open text keywords like "dirty bomb" suggested in the article. So, the question raises, how effective is such surveillance and are there other purposes?
Cancel

-ADS BY GOOGLE

SearchCloudSecurity

SearchNetworking

SearchCIO

SearchEnterpriseDesktop

SearchCloudComputing

ComputerWeekly.com

  • CIO Trends #6: Nordics

    In this e-guide, read how the High North and Baltic Sea collaboration is about to undergo a serious and redefining makeover to ...

  • CIO Trends #6: Middle East

    In this e-guide we look at the role of information technology as the Arabian Gulf commits billions of dollars to building more ...

  • CIO Trends #6: Benelux

    In this e-guide, read about the Netherlands' coalition government's four year plan which includes the term 'cyber' no fewer than ...

Close