The FBI has signed a deal that will give it access to monitor Twitter’s “firehose,” 500 million tweets posted publicly each day. The move has raised privacy concerns and claims that Twitter is not being consistent in enforcing its ban on data being used for surveillance purposes, reports the Boston Globe. “It’s deeply frightening that the FBI is about to access, and may already have access to, this very powerful tool,” said Kade Crockford of the American Civil Liberties Union. The FBI, like anyone else, has been able to track some publicly-posted tweets all along, but Twitter’s public-facing interface provides users access to only a small slice of tweets at a time, while beneath the surface millions of tweets fly back and forth.
Access to the far more comprehensive firehose data stream is restricted. The FBI agreed to a deal with the company Dataminr, which already has firehose access. The FBI said the deal will allow the agency to “directly access the full firehose” and to “search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.” The deal allows the FBI to change those filters to “reflect changes in investigative priorities,” according to the document, which was posted this month on a federal website that details government contracts with businesses. “The FBI has a need to obtain information about relevant breaking news and events in real-time,” the document said. “Twitter is a platform where news first breaks on terrorist attacks, military actions, epidemiological events, and natural disasters, among other topics.” Dataminr spokeswoman Alexa Ottenstein said that, “Dataminr is not a product that enables surveillance.”