The FBI Files: The FBI Pressured Twitter to Reveal Private User Information

December 20th, 2022 2:19 PM

The FBI attempted to dodge the legal process and “get Twitter to share data outside of the normal search warrant process,” according to independent journalist Michael Shellenberger, who broke the Twitter Files Part 7 story Monday. 

Shellenberger showed evidence of the FBI repeatedly asking Twitter executives to release user information. One screenshot of an email from FBI special agent Elvis Chan shows he asked Twitter to share certain user personal information with the FBI – something he knew violated Twitter’s terms of service. 

“A few years ago, Twitter said they would no longer provide their data feed to members of the IC [Intelligence Community],” Chan wrote, according to screenshots tweeted by Shellenberger. “My colleagues wanted to know if that policy has changed or if you would be willing to change it.”

Chan claimed that he’d like Twitter to reconsider its policy so that the FBI could use a “tool for open source intelligence,” he said in an email. 

“The commercial version of this tool includes the Twitter data feed,” Chan reportedly wrote. “However, the feed was disabled because the vendor said they did not want to violate their terms of service with Twitter. My colleagues are wondering if Twitter would be open to revising its terms of service to allow this vendor to continue having access to the Twitter feed?”


Former Twitter Head of Trust and Safety Yoel Roth outright refused Chan’s request in a suggested response to Chan’s email, according to screenshots Shellenberger provided. 

“As a rule we’re not able to directly discuss data licensing relationships with third parties (such as the customers of our data customers), both due to confidentiality reasons and limited information on our end about the business decisions that may have led one of our customers to decline to provide services to the government,” Roth wrote, according to screenshots. “We also have a long standing policy prohibiting the use of our data products and APIs for surveillance and intelligence-gathering purposes, which we would not deviate from.”

Twitter even warned employees about the FBI’s aggressive efforts to obtain Twitter API or data that Twitter shared with its third-party partners. “We have seen a sustained (If uncoordinated) effort by the IC [intelligence community] to push us to share more info & change our API policies,” Twitter Director of Policy and Philanthropy Carlos Monje wrote, according to Shellenberger’s screenshots. “They are probing and pushing everywhere they can (including by whispering to congressional staff). We should stay connected and keep a solid front against these efforts.”

Screenshots indicate that the problem had persisted six months later. 

An unnamed FBI employee asked if Twitter would skip the standard legal process and share the service providers associated with Twitter users’ VPN IP addresses. 

“While I understand obtaining the actual VPN IP addresses associated with the respective accounts would likely require legal process, would Twitter be open to sharing which service provider(s) those VPN IP addresses resolved to?” the agent wrote.

Roth refused, saying he would “need legal process to provide further information.”

This new information emerged days after Saturday’s batch of Twitter Files revealed the FBI and Roth exchanged emails over 150 times between January 2020 and November 2022.  


Monday’s Part 7 Twitter Files release also showed that the FBI paid Twitter “millions of dollars for its staff time” and reportedly “primed” Roth for several months to flag the Hunter Biden story as Russian disinformation.

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