Jonathan Schanzer writes: Sensational reports in the Guardian and Washington Post recently blew the lid off of the National Security Agency’s (NSA) electronic surveillance efforts, which have harvested everything from phone calls to Facebook posts for intelligence purposes.
Curiously, Twitter still appears outside the grasp of the NSA’s PRISM program, which gathers information from major U.S. Internet companies. But a group of lawmakers are concerned that the popular microblogging service has become too hospitable an environment for terrorist groups. The platform hosts a number of official feeds for terrorist groups, including Somalia’s al-Shabab, the North African al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Syria’s Jabhat al-Nusra, the Taliban, and Hamas.
Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who currently serves as the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on Terrorism, Nonproliferation and Trade, is looking to curtail terrorist activity on Twitter. Poe is mindful of free speech concerns, but believes terrorist organizations are not entitled to the same free speech protections. As he argued last year, after watching Hamas use the platform for propaganda purposes during its November war with Israel, “Twitter must recognize sooner rather than later that social media is a tool for the terrorists.”
First Amendment activists will almost certainly cry foul. But they will not be alone: This would be one of their rare moments of harmony with the U.S. intelligence community, which has used Twitter feeds of extremists to monitor their messaging for strategies, tactics, and policies. America’s spies also monitor the feeds of extremist personalities and groups to see who follows them and who sympathizes with them, with the goal of identifying potential security threats at home or abroad. In fact, Twitter has made it possible for official bodies to interact with a banned group — even if those interactions haven’t been pleasant. [Continue reading…]
Twitter’s non-participation in PRISM might have provided the company with a small PR coup — in defense of civil liberties and all that — but it probably has just as much to do with the fact that the intelligence community is already perfectly happy with how the platform operates. The front door is wide open. Who needs a back door? Why should we not simply assume that the NSA is already merrily harvesting every single tweet?