Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Why isn't Twitter part of the NSA PRISM snooping program?

Evan Dashevsky | June 8, 2013
Microsoft was the first to partner with the NSA in 2007, according to the once-secret PRISM PowerPoint deck. Other big-name tech companies followed, and even the obscure PalTalk joined the fray. But, quite conspicuously, Twitter never joined the government snooping program--there's no reference to the company in the NSA document.

Microsoft was the first to partner with the NSA in 2007, according to the once-secret PRISM PowerPoint deck. Other big-name tech companies followed, and even the obscure PalTalk joined the fray. But, quite conspicuously, Twitter never joined the government snooping program--there's no reference to the company in the NSA document.

Twitter was founded in 2006, and certainly over the course of PRISM's development, Twitter has evolved into a major platform. You would expect it to catch the attention of the NSA--along with Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Apple and other companies that apparently gave the government their buy-in.

So, why wasn't Twitter among the who's who of PRISM partners? While much is unknown about the NSA program, we spoke with digital privacy experts to explore three possible reasons for this notable omission.

Twitter is a low priority
"Whenever spies start sifting, they develop an insatiable thirst for data," John M. Simpson, the director of Consumer Watchdog's privacy project, told TechHive. "But they may also be prioritizing. Much of what is available on Twitter is publicly accessible. There really isn't much in the Twitter business model that incorporates much private back and forth."

Of course, Twitter does have ways to transmit information privately, such as communicating via non-public direct messages, or maintaining a "locked" account that would only be accessible to those with approved access. However, even with these privacy controls in place, Twitter's minimalist nature isn't very suitable for transferring large sets of information.

"The [other companies included in the Prism program] make up a larger, richer, more substantive base of information than Twitter," says Jeramie Scott, the National Security Fellow for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC). "Given the limits [of what] you can input for any particular tweet, the amount of information is lower than what you can access in other services," Scott told TechHive.

The fact that Twitter only allows for a single beefy nugget of information in any particular tweet may have made it a low priority for the NSA. Indeed, if a terrorist (or anyone the government wants to snoop on) funnels his most sensitive information into emails, phone calls, and video chats, it would make sense that PRISM would first partner with platforms for those avenues of communications.

Twitter is more privacy aware
For its part, Twitter has proven itself far more willing to defend the privacy of its users from government requests than other technology companies.

"Twitter does have a history for protecting users' privacy. They went to bat when the government wanted information on Occupy Wall Street or Wikileaks. They've offered more pushback than most tech companies," says Scott of EPIC.

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for CIO Asia eNewsletters.