The Federal Bureau of Investigation recently announced that it was seeking an application that would allow it to ‘scrape’ Facebook, Twitter and all other online media for potential threats to public safety.
But the agency wants to stress that it will protect users’ civil liberties and will only access information that is considered public. “The intent is to view publicly available open-source, non-private social data that is readily available on the open Internet,” Special Agent Ann Todd of the FBI’s Office of Public Affairs said.
New Scientist magazine was the first to discover that the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) posted a ‘Social Media Application’ market research request online on January 19.
“Social media has become a primary source of intelligence because it has become the premier first response to key events and the primal alert to possible developing situations,” it read.
If you’re wondering what the FBI has in mind for its social media application, it’s all outlined in the document. Basically, the bureau wants an app that can:
- Scour or ‘scrape’ social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
- Create different levels of colour coded threat alerts displayed on maps–Google Maps 3D and Yahoo! Maps are apparently on the shortlist.
- Compile domestic and global ‘terror data’.
- Instantly translate tweets in foreign languages.
But not everyone is comfortable with this FBI push into social media. The London-based Privacy International says that it’s concerned about the consequences of such activities.
“Social networks are about connecting people with other people–if one person is the target of police monitoring, there will be a dragnet effect in which dozens, even hundreds, of innocent users also come under surveillance,” said Gus Hosein, the group’s executive director.
The Washington-based privacy group known as EPIC calls the FBI’s social media strategy ‘ridiculous’. “Get a warrant,” said Lillie Coney, associate director of EPIC. “You don’t know half the people you communicate with on Twitter. They are going to launch investigations and start looking at all sorts of people that they have no right to be investigating. There is no accountability, no transparency and no oversight.”
According to The Guardian UK, U.S. law enforcement has increasingly been using social media to capture criminals. Recently, over 40 members of 2 New York rival gangs were arrested after bragging about their criminal activities on Twitter.
“Gang members boasted of ‘going to the beach’ when they entered rival gang territories and tweeted they had ‘clapped him off the surfboard,’ when they shot a rival. In the last 18 months, the gangs were responsible for six homicides and 32 shootings, according to New York police commissioner Ray Kelly,” reports The Guardian.
Controversy aside, the FBI can’t be expected not to monitor every public online post. This is, after all, how people communicate today–whether they’re good people or bad people.
This is why it’s important to remind users of all ages that the Internet is as public as can be and that anything they post there could theoretically be scrutinized by anyone, or any agency, with Internet access. Think about that the next time you click ‘share’!
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Image Source: Cyber Gnome