Twitter Cuts Off Fusion Spy Centers’ Access to Social Media Surveillance Tool

As of this week, Twitter has made sure that federally funded fusion centers can no longer use a powerful social media monitoring tool to spy on users. After the ACLU of California discovered the domestic spy centers had access to this tool, provided by Dataminr (a company partly owned by Twitter), Dataminr was forced to comply with Twitter’s clear rule prohibiting use of data for surveillance.

Twitter sent a letter to the ACLU of California this week confirming that Dataminr has terminated access for all fusion center accounts. The letter also makes clear that Dataminr will no longer provide social media surveillance tools to any local, state, or federal government customer.

We already know that government use of social media surveillance has expanded rapidly and has been used to target people of color and activists. 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.

This Twitter and Dataminr announcement applies to all seventy-seven fusion centers (six in California alone) that are currently operating in states across the country. 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. These spy centers also gather information about innocent people deemed “suspicious” by law enforcement – people like ACLU client Tariq Razak, a “male of Middle Eastern” descent who was waiting in a train station for his mother to use the restroom.

Through a public records request, the ACLU of California discovered that the Los Angeles area fusion center, JRIC, was using Dataminr and had access to the company’s powerful Geospatial Analysis Application that enables keyword searches and location-based tracking. Settings in the Geospatial App even allowed the government to focus on monitoring journalists and organizations. Using Dataminr, fusion centers like JRIC could search billions of real-time and historical public tweets and then potentially share information with the federal government.

In an email to the Los Angeles Police Department, Dataminr also highlighted how its products could be customized to track protests by drawing from the complete Twitter “firehose” of public tweets. In a separate brochure, Dataminr touted the Geospatial App’s use to surveil a student protest.

As Twitter’s letter explains, the company took action to ensure that Dataminr complied with its long-standing policy against use of data for surveillance, which they recently publicly reiterated to developers.

Dataminr has now committed that it will not provide government customers with data access or features that allow for “any form of surveillance.”

As Twitter’s letter notes, a Dataminr news alert service will still be available to law enforcement and organizations supporting first responders. The ACLU of California will be watching to ensure that this service is not being used for surveillance – and that Dataminr and any other company with access to social media data are properly respecting privacy and civil rights.

Twitter’s action is an important step to protect users. But social media surveillance is just a piece of the surveillance puzzle. Companies and communities will need to take further steps in the months and years ahead to build in much stronger transparency, accountability, and oversight for government surveillance and make sure that rights are properly protected.

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It's about time we stopped being complacent about surveillance. The old "if you've got nothing to hide," apologetic looks a bit different depending on who's President, eh?

Lawrence Goodwin

It's looked exactly the same since about 15 years before President John F. Kennedy warned the nation in a speech about "secret societies." Many bold citizens did rise to challenge the invasive surveillance states of Senator Joe McCarthy and President Richard Nixon; as many have criticized the vast apparatus looming over us ever since September 11, 2001.


How would the ACLU suggest we balance management of partisan and transborder asymmetrical threats, assuming this is NOT a zero sum game?


No word on how this decision effects the UK snooper charter. With the isps keeping a record if they needed to the government could read a backlog of your tweets


Wait.. Dataminr, Media Sonar, Geofeedia has the ability to single out people of color... Tweets? Funny when I set up my Twitter account there was no box that indicated what race I am? How does that work? How do these tools pick up race if the user did not identify one?

I use all of these tools to protect and serve the public. I didn't see a setting where I could set up a specific customized check box field for "people of color" ??


Hypothetically there are methods how this could be done, by, say, keyword analysis, text style analysis, or analysis of the graph separability of mutual or one-way subscribers.


The answer lies here : Try to enter some of your tweets. You will be surprised.

Susan Rocha

Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer prosecuted me for a crime I did NOT commit. Divine Saviour Catholic Church, 90065 make up a lie to shut me up. Mike Feuer believed the lie. Jury found me not guilty. Of course, it was all a made up lie. That was malicious prosecution. No evidence, no witnesses, just a made up lie. Lots of court time wasted on 2 attorneys, the judge, and all other employees. I hope the Catholic Church paid you off well for all that wasted money spent. Shame on Mike Feuer and Divine Saviour Catholic Church!!!!!

And, the ACLU would not help. Now City government meetings are being held at the church. I have asked for those neighborhood council meetings to be moved. The City has refused. Yet LAPD has threatened me with arrest on several occassions if I go on their property. Yet the city refuses to move the location of their meetings.


I refer back to Mr. Razak's experience of being singled out, all because he was "hanging around" waiting for his mother to use the restroom.
I am caucasion, 62, and studying ARABIC, because it is a difficult language and will keep my mind sharp. My BEST FRIENDS happen to be Moroccan and are U.S. citizens.
I use an online Arabic course; an online Arabic dictionary; a translator that can translate Arabic to English, or English to Arabic; I regularly write Arabic texts to my non-radical, Muslim BEST FRIENDS. Don't think I haven't wondered if Trump would place me under surveillance for my perfectly innocent behavior!
Now, let me mention Saleh being thrown off the plane simply because he spoke over the phone to his mother, using Arabic. It is the only language she knows! He made the "mistake" of addressing his friend in Arabic.......and the next thing you know, he's being thrown off the plane! Thankfully, he recorded it ALL on his cellphone, and is seeking legal counsel. I WISH I HAD BEEN ON THAT PLANE! I WOULD HAVE STARTED LOUDLY SPEAKING ARABIC TO SALEH. IT WOULD HAVE MADE THE JERKS ON THE PLANE A BIT NON-PLUSSED TO HEAR A SHORT, VERY WHITE, VERY CULTURED OLDER WOMAN SPEAKING THE LANGUAGE THAT THEY USED TO DISCRIMINATE against these two young men just because of their descent and language!
I hope Saleh wins his lawsuit handily, and I, for one, will NEVER give that airline ANY business.
Let us help the ACLU fight both untoward surveillance as well as the above-mentioned incidents, which were racially-based.


You should probably be aware that Adam Saleh was removed from the plane for being disruptive, not for speaking Arabic. He has a long history of making videos of "pranks" like these, which he posts on YouTube because he wants to be an "Internet sensation." There were several people on that plane, all of which had said he was causing a disturbance.


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