Twitter and Facebook have been accused of using their massive reach to control people’s lives, by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Justice.
And the company is now being sued by the FBI and DOJ for its use of data mining tools.
The tools have been used to build a massive database of information on millions of people, with the government claiming that Twitter is violating federal law.
A federal lawsuit filed against Twitter on Tuesday alleged that the social network has engaged in widespread and illegal “data mining,” by collecting and storing “all manner of personally identifiable information about individuals without their consent,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
Twitter’s lawyers argued in the suit that the FBI’s accusations are false and baseless, and that the company has not engaged in any “data gathering” in the past.
Twitter did not immediately respond to Ars’ request for comment.
While the FBI has not provided a copy of the suit to Ars, it does appear to contain multiple sections alleging that the data mining is taking place in “a sophisticated and sophisticated manner.”
The FBI says the tools are used to “read” tweets by millions of users, as well as to “target” people based on what the FBI calls their “personality characteristics” such as “political ideology, religion, or gender.”
Twitter claims that the tools can “undermine a person’s confidence in the safety and security of their online account.”
The Justice Department has also claimed that the tool was used to target political dissidents.
According to Ars Technicas article, the FBI claims that in its search of Twitter’s database, it discovered a variety of “targeting activities” by using “tens of thousands of accounts” that “have been identified by law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”
The tools were then used to monitor the identities of thousands more users, with “hundreds of thousands” of people “reported to have been targets.”
“A total of approximately 1.6 million accounts were monitored in the course of that investigation,” the DOJ stated.
The FBI also found that “approximately 200,000 Twitter accounts were targeted for possible targeting by foreign governments and terrorist groups.”
Ars Techniques report adds that the agency says the tool is used to help identify individuals and groups with whom “a threat to national security exists.”
Twitter has also admitted to the existence of the tools, stating in a blog post on Tuesday that it uses “hacking tools to identify, target, and report individuals who engage in ‘suspicious behavior.'”
The company did not say exactly how it collects, processes, or stores user data, but Ars Technique has obtained a screenshot of a Google spreadsheet that lists the names of the accounts that were targeted.
Twitter has said it would not disclose how much money the company spends on data mining, but the documents obtained by Ars Technasia say that the firm is able to collect “billions of dollars a year” in revenue from its “data science research and analysis.”