Twitter will crack down on tweets that link to a 269GB leak of police files
The social media site this week permanently suspended the Twitter account of Distributed Denial of Secrets, a group of journalists and activists that obtained the 269GB trove of files and published it under the name “BlueLeaks.”
According to a Twitter spokesperson, the company decided to take action because Distributed Denial of Secrets has admitted the 269GB of information came from the hacktivist group Anonymous. Last year, Twitter introduced a rule that banned users from sharing hacked materials on the social media service. “You can discuss a hack that has taken place,” the policy says. But posting the hacked content in an image, text, or via a link is a violation.
The other reason Twitter decided to take down the account is because the 269GB data dump contains unredacted personal information on various people, which could put them at risk of harm.
Since last Friday, Distributed Denial of Secrets has been hosting the data dump on a searchable website so the public can scrutinize the internal communications of the FBI and over 200 police departments in the US. The leak sparked many Twitter users to share links to the website, along with images of internal FBI documents found in the data dump.
But starting on Tuesday, the company began blocking users from posting tweets that link to the website. If you do, Twitter will return with an error, and an explanation that says the link has been flagged as “potentially harmful.”
For older tweets that were already posted and link to the website, Twitter will serve up a generic warning, telling you that the link is unsafe. (Oddly, the same warning suggests visiting the website can infect you with malware or steal your passwords.)
In response, Distributed Denial of Secrets accused Twitter of trying to silence whistleblowing. “Twitter doesn’t want you watching the watchers,” tweeted Emma Best, a journalist and member of the group.
Critics also point out that WikiLeaks in the past has been allowed to share hacked materials on the social media site. For instance, in 2017, WikiLeaks published a trove of confidential files on the CIA’s cyber espionage capabilities, which were supposedly obtained via a government contractor out to spark debate about US use of cyberweapons.
Twitter hasn’t commented on the discrepancy, but the company only introduced its policy against sharing hacked materials in March 2019.
In an interview with Wired, Best said Distributed Denial of Secrets spent a week redacting sensitive personal information from the trove of files. However, she conceded “due to the size of the dataset, we probably missed things.”
“I wish we could have done more, but I’m pleased with what we did and that we continue to learn,” she added.