The latest batch of Twitter Files, released by independent journalist Michael Shellenberger on December 19, revealed that the FBI paid Twitter millions of dollars to process the bureau’s requests.
“I am happy to report we have collected $3,415,323 since October 2019!” wrote an employee at Twitter’s Safety, Content, & Law Enforcement (SCALE) team, in an email sent in February 2021.
“In 2019 SCALE instituted a reimbursement program for our legal process response from the FBI,” the email continued. “Prior to the start of the program, Twitter chose not to collect under this statutory right of reimbursement for the time spent processing requests from the FBI.”
The payout to Twitter, like many other things revealed through the Twitter files, is disturbing. However, Twitter’s “Guidelines for law enforcement” has a section titled “Cost reimbursement,” which states that “Twitter may seek reimbursement for costs associated with information produced pursuant to legal process and as permitted by law (e.g., under 18 U.S.C. §2706).”
The email suggests that the FBI’s reimbursement program for paying companies to process requests was there long before Twitter began accepting the payments. That means that other social media companies were also likely getting paid. What is not clear is which companies, how much the FBI has spent, and for how long it has been making the payments.
The amount spent to pay Twitter could be seen as bribing the company more than compensating it for the extra resources required to process the requests for information or simply buying information on users.