The FBI is looking to develop a web application that can monitor social networks, including Facebook and Twitter, in order to gain better real-time intelligence about current or potential future security threats or situations.
This plan was inadvertently revealed by the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) in a market research request for a “Social Media Application.”
The eagle-eyed New Scientist picked up on the request, which aims to “determine the capabilities of the IT industry to provide a social media application.”
Government agencies like the FBI are usually reluctant to openly discuss how social networks are used as an intelligence tool.
In the Request for Information document, the FBI lays out the requirements for the application that it is seeking to build. In the background portion of the document, the SIOC writes:
The FBI has conducted market research and determined that a geospatial alert and analysis mapping application is the best known solution for attaining and disseminating real time open source intelligence and improving the FBI’s overall situational awareness.
We’ve embedded the six-page document below, but here are some of the highlights:
- Provide an automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats that meet the search parameters/keywords defined by FBI SIOC.
- Ability for user to create, define, and select parameters/key word requirements. Automated search of national news, local news, and social media networks. Examples include but are not limited to Fox News. CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
- Provide instant notifications of breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats that have been vetted and meet the deÔ¨Åned search parameters.
- Ability to immediately access geospatial maps with coding in addition to providing critical infrastructural layers. Preferred maps include but are not limited to Google Maps, Google 3D maps, ESRI, and Yahoo Maps.
- Ability to instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all “publicly available” tweets across the Twitter Site and any other “publicly available” social networking
sites/forums (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.).
The entire document is worth reading, if only to see the request for a “tweet lingo” dictionary within the app.
Monitoring social media activity isn’t limited to the FBI. Earlier this month, House subcommittee members urged the Department of Homeland Security to more closely monitor social media traffic.
While privacy advocates have bristled at the idea of social media monitoring, the government position is that if information is public, it’s fair game for scraping and monitoring.
The FBI’s RFI specifically targets “publicly available information” — rather than anything users keep private.
What do you think about how government agencies and law enforcement are using social media monitoring tools? Let us know in the comments.