Twitter Bans Journalist Organisation for Linking to Leaked Secret Police Files

Twitter confirmed on Tuesday night that it had permanently banned the account of Distributed Denial of Secrets, a journalist organisation that earlier this week made accessible to the public one of the largest repositories of leaked U.S. law enforcement documents to date.

The group’s account, @DDoSecrets, was permanently suspended, a Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo, citing the company’s policy against the distribution of hacked materials. The policy specifically prohibits accounts from sharing “content obtained through hacking that contains private information, may put people in harm or danger, or contains trade secrets.”

Twitter is among a short list of tech giants whose safe harbour against lawsuits stemming from user-generated content has become a target of conservative lawmakers and the U.S. Justice Department. Attorney General William Barr has has repeatedly voice concerns about the limited liability shield enjoyed by digital platforms under Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which does not protect companies against violations of federal law.

A Twitter spokesperson said among the files published by DDOSecrets were documents containing unredacted personal information that, the company determined, ran the risk of putting individuals in harm’s way. ZDNet first reported the ban.

DDOSecrets published 269-gigabytes of police data this week, including previously secret emails, audio and video files, and other documents, including police and FBI bulletins and guides for various intelligence-gathering tools. The documents reportedly date back as far as August 1996, according to security reporter Brian Krebs, who confirmed the leak was the result of a hack on Monday, citing analysis by the National Fusion Centre Association (NFCA).

According to Krebs, the leak was the result of a security breach at a Houston-based web development firm called Netsential. Emma Best, cofounder of DDOSecrets, told Wired’s Andy Greenberg on Monday the documents had been supplied by someone claiming affiliation with the hacktivist group Anonymous, which has been mostly dormant in the U.S. since 2012.

Krebs reported the NFCA had warned authorities the leak contained sensitive information, including financial data and personally identifiable information (PII). Best told Wired that DDOSecrets had worked to scrub the files of personal information, but acknowledged that given the enormity of the leak — millions of pages of documents — some sensitive details were likely still buried in the cache.

“We’ve worked with lots of national outlets and our previous releases have exposed financial and government institutions and have been compared to the Panama Papers,” Best told Gizmodo. “It’s disheartening to see Twitter side with the police against researchers, journalists, and the public, especially at a time when the police are being exposed for systemic racism, lawlessness and complete lack of accountability.” (Disclosure: Best has previously contributed reporting to Gizmodo.)

Lorax B. Horne, editor-in-chief of DDOSecrets, tweeted a list of media partners the organisation has worked with, including the Washington Post, Guardian, and the Intercept, among other major news outlets.

Several users on Twitter, including Horne, pointed to the seemingly selective nature of Twitter’s enforcement, noting that WikiLeaks, which houses a far more vast repository of hacked government documents, has not faced similar repercussions. Twitter did not immediately respond when asked about the differences between the two accounts.


Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.