It seems that Twitter has been standing up to the UK Governments efforts to snoop on user data, and British Ministers are far from happy about it.
Twitter blocks third party surveillance
According to a report in the Telegraph, the Government has been paying an unnamed private third-party company to monitor Twitter on their behalf, looking out for various terms which they deem to be of interest, including those related to extremist content and terrorist activity.
Twitter has now taken the step of blocking this company and in doing so has removed access to the information streams they were monitoring.
According to the highly-politicised newspaper report, this has prevented the government and its intelligence agencies such as MI5 from effectively monitoring the internet and identifying terrorist plots. The other perspective is of course that it has prevented unauthorised surveillance operations to be carried out on Twitter.
This is not the first-time Twitter has taken such a step which prevented third parties from monitoring the platform on behalf of state governments. Last year, they took steps to block a company called Dataminr from performing such activities on behalf of the CIA. That decision was even more controversial because Twitter is part owner of the company.
Third Party surveillance “unacceptable and prohibited.”
The reason for these moves has recently been explained on the Twitter blog by the company’s vice-president of data and solutions, Chris Moody.
Writing last November, he explained that “Recent reports about Twitter data being used for surveillance …have caused us great concern… Our policies in this area are long-standing… Using Twitter’s Public APIs or data products to track or profile protesters and activists is absolutely unacceptable and prohibited.”
And Twitter has stuck to their guns despite the UK Government’s efforts to overturn the decision. They refused to comment further, but instead drew the attention of media outlets to Chris Moody’s online post.
The Home Office have refused to comment on the latest Twitter decision too, but Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd has previously threatened to legislate against tech companies who do not allow Governments and agencies to access their data.
With Britain already home to one of the most intrusive surveillance systems in the free world, and with ISPs collecting all user activity data as a matter of course, it could easily be argued that they should already have access to more than enough data to root out potential threats. This doesn’t even take into account the myriad of other intelligence sources MI5 and others have at their disposal.
Whilst the Home Office hasn’t elaborated on a story that they were most likely the source of, their stance was voiced by Conservative Party MP, and former Army officer, Tom Tugendhat who said “It’s a disgrace that an organisation as powerful as Twitter fails to accept it has a responsibility to help keep people safe, while it is using the very same data to make huge profits from them.”
Few Twitter users will have much sympathy with his stance. Threats to online privacy have grown exponentially in recent years, with the British Government one of the prime culprits. It is something of a relief to see that the big tech companies are still willing to stand up for their users in the face of what is likely to be severe pressure.
But that doesn’t mean users should take it for granted that the big tech companies will protect their data. The recent revelations about Yahoo! allowing the CIA to mine their email data is prove enough of that.
So users should still be taking steps to protect themselves online and this means signing up with a reputable VPN provider such as IPVanish or ExpressVPN, which can secure all of their online and data, and also anonymise it, and so keep it safe from prying government eyes.