In the wake of recent school shootings in Florida and Texas in which the suspected gunmen posted clues to their intentions on social media, authorities have raised the question of collecting information from content shared online, once again putting law enforcement officials and social media companies on opposite sides of the debate over the balance between security and privacy.
"Really every time there's any tragedy like this, there's sort of this sense that there's all this [social media] data out there and if only we could look at all of it, we could predict the future," said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel for the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center for Justice. "While that's understandable, I think that's just not quite in line with the practicality of it."
Platforms like Facebook and Twitter clarified their policies, in 2016 and 2017 respectively, and banned the use of data for surveillance purposes in reaction to a series of revelations from the ACLU of Northern California about alleged government violations of civil liberties.
But law enforcement officials told ABC News that restricted access to social media monitoring tools is jeopardizing public safety. Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel, for his part, has encouraged lawmakers to allow police to detain someone if they see graphic images or other disturbing content posted online.