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Twitter Bans Controversial Account Behind "BlueLeaks" That Released Hundreds of Gigabytes of Police Data

Twitter Bans Controversial Account Behind "BlueLeaks" That Released Hundreds of Gigabytes of Police Data

Twitter has confirmed it permanently suspended the account of Distributed Denial of Secrets (DDoS), a self-proclaimed journalist organization that constructed one of the country’s largest databases containing leaked documents on U.S. law enforcement, according to a report from Ars Technica.

Just four days after publishing information on 200 law enforcement agencies across the country — 270 gigabytes of data under the title “BlueLeaks” — it was Twitter’s decision to issue false warnings suggesting the site “may infect users with malware,” an interestingly phrased statement that seems to preserve plausible deniability without the need to provide any evidence. 

“Your account, DDoSecrets, has been suspended for violating the Twitter rules,” Twitter told the account holders via email. “We don’t permit the use of our services to directly distribute content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in physical harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.”

In the contextual vacuum of doxing, the policy seems perfectly fair, however, we’re not facing a simple open-shut case of far-left activists intentionally harassing random police officers for shits and giggles. As explained by Ars Technica, this standard goes against the very notion of investigative journalism supported by Twitter, evidenced in how publications such as WikiLeaks — notorious for their publishing hacked data from the Democratic National Committee and various political other sources — continue to thrive on the platform. Given DDoSecrets describes itself as a “transparency collective, aimed at enabling the free transmission of data in the public interest,” it strikes as the platform selectively enforcing the spirit of freedom of the press.

“DDoSecrets has worked with dozens of major news outlets across the world and published terabytes of data uncovering money laundering schemes, corruption, and more,” tweeted Emma Best, a spokesperson and member of DDoS. “While some of the data we host was hacked, much of it was (and will continue to be) leaked. Twitter has silenced those whistleblowers.” 

Thus far, the results of BlueLeaks vary. Users have found genuine areas of public interest, such as police department’s internal interest in protesters using the Stingray-detecting app SnoopSnitch, officers speaking candidly about the murder of George Floyd, as well as “hundreds of thousands of police and FBI reports, bulletins, guides and more.”

Other reports, however, found “highly sensitive information” which wasn’t properly censored to the public which could result in genuine harm. According to an alert from the National Fusion Center Association (NFCA), the files covered nearly 24 years — from August 1996 through to June 19, 2020 — and included uncensored names, email addresses, phone numbers, PDF documents, images, and a large number of text, video, CSV and ZIP files. Sure, Best tried to save face by telling Wired the group scrubbed over 50 gigabytes of data including private details about crime victims, children, unrelated private businesses, health care companies, and retired veterans’ associations, yet didn’t extend such journalistic ethics to their intended targets in blue. The site co-founder conceded in the very same article that his team “probably missed things.”

The NFCA analysis concluded the leaks were the result of a security breach at Netsential, a Houston-based web development firm. “Preliminary analysis of the data contained in this leak suggests that Netsential, a company used by multiple fusion centers, law enforcement, and other government agencies across the United States, was the source of the compromise,” the NFCA wrote. “Netsential confirmed that this compromise was likely the result of a threat actor who leveraged a compromised Netsential customer user account and the web platform’s upload feature to introduce malicious content, allowing for the exfiltration of other Netsential customer data.”

This puts Twitter in a precarious situation, forced to weigh the good and the bad of such journalistic affairs. Even if the underlying cause was just, it’s clear the reporters put their agenda above fundamentally necessary news ethics, easily avoidable if the time was given to redacting any doxing details. And even then, experts like Stewart Baker, Washington-based law attorney, explain the BlueLeaks data is “unlikely to shed much light” on police misconduct, but could expose both “sensitive law enforcement investigations” and even endanger lives, suggesting even the ends can’t necessarily justify these means.

“With this volume of material, there are bound to be compromises of sensitive operations and maybe even human sources or undercover police, so I fear it will put lives at risk,” Baker said. “Every organized crime operation in the country will likely have searched for their own names before law enforcement knows what’s in the files, so the damage could be done quickly. I’d also be surprised if the files produce much scandal or evidence of police misconduct. That’s not the kind of work the fusion centers do.”