The NSA and the CIA are going to have to scroll through their own Twitter feeds from now on. U.S. intelligence agencies will reportedly be banned from using Dataminr, a service that uses an algorithm to sort through the social media platform's entire output.
According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Twitter plans to cut off access to Dataminr for U.S. intelligence agencies, although the move has not yet been made public. Government agencies had been using the service, which is owned in part by Twitter, to patrol social media posts for possible terrorist plots. However, Twitter is wary of appearing to be too intimately connected to the intelligence community as the relationship between the government and Silicon Valley grows more and more complicated.
A senior U.S. intelligence official was quoted by the Wall Street Journal as saying he thought Twitter appeared concerned about the "optics" of a too-cozy relationship between Twitter and the government. In a statement, Twitter said its “data is largely public, and the U.S. government may review public accounts on its own, like any user could.” However, Dataminr is currently the only company Twitter allows to access its entire output in real time — every single tweet — and package that information to sell to clients.
Twitter holds only a 5 percent stake in Dataminr, which was recently valued at over $700 million, but the social media giant is exerting a substantial amount of influence in this situation. Dataminr will not want to bite the hand that feeds — its entire business relies on a solid relationship with Twitter — but losing expensive government contracts will be a blow to the company. Dataminr's CEO, Ted Bailey, had just met with Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton in late April to discuss the capacity of Dataminr to provide valuable, real-time information to the government.
Just before I spoke with Hillary on the power of Dataminr & Twitter for realtime information: H-Rod totally gets it! pic.twitter.com/b0DlOGVMIy
— Ted Bailey (@TedBailey) April 29, 2016
Dataminr will maintain a $255,000 contract with the Department of Homeland Security. Many media companies, including International Business Times, also hold contracts with Dataminr.
Twitter's demands come as the debate about the tech industry's obligations to assist the government, especially in regard to intelligence, continues to be hashed out in the wake of a recent Apple-FBI dispute. After the computer company refused to help the law enforcement agency unlock an iPhone used by one of the suspects in the San Bernardino, California, terrorist attacks in December, the FBI initially brought legal action against Apple. However, the FBI dropped the lawsuit after receiving assistance with the phone from a third party.