US law enforcement agencies seek an app to monitor social sites

The FBI, according to media reports, intends to step up the social networks’ monitoring, and sought more assistance to build an app to constantly watch the sites like Facebook and Twitter. The bureau has already published RFI (a request for information) looking for companies to frame an elaborate social site monitoring system. The proposed measure to increase the monitoring of communication on social networks has upset privacy advocates.

The idea is to develop a secure web application for its strategic information & operations center. The app is expected to gather critical open source information/ intelligence to let SIOC quickly decipher and geo-locate emerging threats. The product will allow the FBI to assemble real time data cached as well as information, and link it to specific locations and also to be easily shared.

The FBI (Federal Bureau of Investigation) mentions in the RFI that social media has emerged as a primary source of intelligence and information gathering since it has become the prime first response to most key events and hence the primal alert to many possible developing situations.”

The FBI made the request just weeks after the Department of Homeland Security of US released a report into the specific privacy implications of monitoring new media websites. It sought to justify the principle of utilizing information users have provided and not having opted to make private. “Data posted to social networking sites is publicly accessible and also voluntarily generated. So the opportunity not to offer it (information) does exist prior to the informational post by the user,” it stated.

It listed sites the bureau intended to monitor, including the photo service Flickr, Itstrending.com, a site that displays popular shared items on Facebook, and YouTube. It highlighted words that it looked out for like “small pox”, “gangs”, “recall” and “leak”.

The application, as FBI sees it, should be able to collect critical ‘open source’ information and possess the ability to:

  • Give an automated search as well as scrape capability of popular social networks including Twitter and Facebook
  • Let users create new keyword searches
  • Show various levels of threats as alerts on maps, if possible using color coding so as to display priority; Yahoo Maps and Google Maps 3D listed as ‘preferred’ mapping options
  • Plot an array of global and domestic terror data
  • Translate tweets in foreign language into English.

An FBI spokesperson was quoted as saying by the BBC that this particular software being thought through was:

“no different than applications used by other government agencies” and that “the application will not focus on specific persons or protected groups, but on words… and activities constituting violations of federal criminal law or threats to national security.”

Privacy groups like Washington-based EPIC describe the FBI request as ridiculous. One doesn’t know so many of the people during Twitter communications. The monitoring agency might launch investigations sans accountability or transparency.