Facebook, FBI Face Brewing Conflict Over Data Collection

Facebook, which has been under scrutiny for its privacy policies, just settled with the U.S. government for a record $5 billion fine. But the FBI has now complicated that picture by more aggressively monitoring potential threats on all social media platforms. Last month, the FBI asked for third party vendors to submit proposals by August 27 for examining public data to “proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests” on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms.

The Wall Street Journal reports that the FBI seeks “publicly available data,” which would include “people’s names, user IDs and photos, which privacy experts said could be utilized in combination with outside data sources to build detailed profiles of users and track their social lives.” Given that information, “it appears that the service would violate Facebook’s ban against the use of its data for surveillance purposes.”

Twitter also stated that its policy bans the use of its data “by any entity for surveillance purposes, or in any other way that would be inconsistent with our users’ reasonable expectations of privacy. Period.” The FBI’s contract states that the data can be collected “while ensuring all privacy and civil liberties compliance requirements are met.”

Whereas Facebook “routinely cooperates with warrants, subpoenas and emergency requests from law-enforcement agencies,” the FBI’s proposal crosses the line as it asks for “the collection of large amounts of user data by law enforcement that can be analyzed without permission from the company or its users.”

Facebook’s settlement with the FTC — which requires the social media company to follow “a comprehensive data security program” — appears to be at odds with the FBI proposal. WSJ notes that the current situation “ratchets up a long-running feud between law enforcement and civil-liberties advocates over how social media should be used to detect and investigate potential criminal activity.”

At the Brennan Center for Justice’s Liberty and National Security Program, senior counsel Rachel Levinson-Waldman reported that, “in late 2016, following an investigation by the American Civil Liberties Union into social-media monitoring done by outside developers on behalf of law enforcement, Facebook and Twitter cracked down on those services and explicitly banned the use of their data for surveillance purposes.”

Facebook’s ban “allowed law-enforcement agencies to look at public profiles manually but not use software designed for large-scale collection and analysis of user data.” Levinson-Waldman pointed out that, “the restrictions reflect a growing understanding that even information posted to a public social network can be misused when gathered in large quantities and paired with outside data sources.”