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FBI, Facebook may spar over social-media monitoring

Rachel Tesler

The FBI plans to more aggressively surveil social media, after threats from mass-murdering assailants have been discovered online, leading Trump and others to call for action. However, Facebook, Twitter and others may not be on the same page, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The FBI is reviewing proposals for datamining contractors, who would monitor and collect perceived threats on social media “to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests." The request was posted before the mass-shootings in El Paso and Dayton that prompted Trump to demand intensified threat detection measures.

Facebook’s current privacy policy states that they prioritize users’ privacy, “Our approach involves making careful decisions every day about how we use and protect data at Facebook. We also adopt policies that limit how developers, advertisers, and others can use our platform.”

The FBI’s contracting request, which is posted on the agency’s website details that it will collect the data “while ensuring all privacy and civil liberties compliance requirements are met.”

Twitter’s spokesperson Ian Plunkett told FOX Business that privacy is paramount for the company and its users, “We prohibit developers using the Public APIs and Gnip data products from allowing law enforcement — or any other entity — to use Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period.”

Plunkett added that they regularly work with law enforcement on investigation and have their own processes in place to handle alarming information posted on the site, “The fact that our Public APIs and Gnip data products provide information that people choose to share publicly does not change our policies in this area. And if developers violate our policies, we will take appropriate action, which can include suspension and termination of access to Twitter’s Public APIs and data products.”

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, has not yet commented on the agency’s proposal.

The FBI and other law-enforcement agencies are seeking more preventative measures to combat mass violence and domestic terrorism. Many recent fatal attacks were perpetrated by people who espoused hate-based ideologies on message boards and social media, in some cases ahead of the attacks.

Facebook and Twitter cracked down on those services and explicitly banned the use of their data for surveillance purposes after the American Civil Liberties Union launched a 2016 investigation scrutinizing monitoring from contracted developers with law enforcement.

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Federal contracting documents show the FBI began monitoring social media as far back as 2012, according to a Wall Street Journal report. They have not detailed the extent of how the new operations will differ from the current social media surveillance. According to the Wall Street Journal, the FBI has an ongoing public-records lawsuit from the ACLU for its refusal to release social media records.

Facebook’s record-breaking $5 billion settlement with the FTC was initiated when a political-research group called Cambridge Analytica illegally purchased Facebook data harvested from a personality quiz app. In 2018, Facebook cut ties with social-media analytics firm Crimson Hexagon after The Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. government agencies contracted 20 projects with the firm, which worked with a Russian nonprofit connected to the Russian government.

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