Law enforcement is worried about losing access to powerful tools for searching social media because of changing attitudes at the social media companies that allow the searches. NPR reports. Last week, Facebook and Twitter restricted bulk data access to users’ information for a company called Geofeedia, after the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California said Geofeedia had suggested to police departments that they could use the service to track protests. Social media monitoring services like Geofeedia rely on bulk data access to be able to search far larger volumes of social media posts, and more efficiently, than the average user.
It’s the kind of large-scale social media analysis that’s mainly used by commercial clients, such as marketers, but which has also been sold to law enforcement agencies. The social media posts being scanned are public, but the ACLU’s Nicole Ozer says the practice is still an invasion of privacy, because of the sheer scale. “Many of these police departments are actually surveilling entire communities,” she says. That’s a reference to the services’ ability to pinpoint social media posts by location — although most people don’t enable location tagging on their social media, and wouldn’t be subject to this kind of “geo-fencing.” Twitter appears to be getting more restrictive. Not only did it cut off Geofeedia’s access to bulk data after the ACLU complainted, earlier this year it cut off data to another company, Dataminr, because it provided deep searches of public Twitter feeds to U.S. intelligence agencies.