FBI plans social network map alert mash-up application

Twitter screenshot The FBI wants an app to combine information from Twitter, Facebook and Google Maps.

Related Stories

The FBI is seeking to develop an early-warning system based on material "scraped" from social networks.

It says the application should provide information about possible domestic and global threats superimposed onto maps "using mash-up technology".

The bureau has asked contractors to suggest possible solutions including the estimated cost.

Privacy campaigners say they are concerned that the move could have implications for free speech.

The FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) posted its "Social Media Application" market research request onto the web on 19 January, and it was subsequently flagged up by New Scientist magazine.

The document says: "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 says the application should collect "open source" information and have the ability to:

  • Provide an automated search and scrape capability of social networks including Facebook and Twitter.
  • Allow users to create new keyword searches.
  • Display different levels of threats as alerts on maps, possibly using colour coding to distinguish priority. Google Maps 3D and Yahoo Maps are listed among the "preferred" mapping options.
  • Plot a wide range of domestic and global terror data.
  • Immediately translate foreign language tweets into English.

The FBI document says the information would be used to help it to predict the likely actions of "bad actors", detect instances of people deliberately misleading law enforcement officers and spot the vulnerabilities of suspect groups.

An FBI spokeswoman told the BBC that the software being researched 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 permissions

The FBI issued the request three weeks after the US Department of Homeland Security released a separate report into the privacy implications of monitoring social media websites.

It justified the principle of using information that users have provided and not opted to make private.

"Information posted to social media websites is publicly accessible and voluntarily generated. Thus the opportunity not to provide information exists prior to the informational post by the user," it says.

It noted that the department's National Operations Center had a policy in place to edit out any gathered information which fell outside of the categories relevant to its investigations.

It listed websites that the centre planned to monitor. They include YouTube, the photo service Flickr, and Itstrending.com - a site which shows popular shared items on Facebook.

It also highlighted words it looked out for. These include "gangs", "small pox", "leak", "recall" and "2600" - an apparent reference to the hacking-focused magazine.

'Dragnet effect'

The London-based campaign group, Privacy International, said it was worried 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.

"It is not necessarily the case that the more information law enforcement officers have, the safer we will be.

"Police may well find themselves overwhelmed by a flood of personal information, information that is precious to those it concerns but useless for the purposes of crime prevention."

The group noted that it was seeking information from the UK's Metropolitan Police Service about its use of social networks.


More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites


This entry is now closed for comments

Jump to comments pagination
  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

    Yes, I am glad so many commenters are so supportive of government invading and trolling social networks. This would have been very effective at stopping the Arab spring and I am sure all people living under the thumb of others will simply love having their friends rounded up for questioning. Roll on 1984.

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    #98 James rigby.

    Interesting idea. It would really get them going until they realised it is merely an idiot playing silly games.

    And to all those bleating about privacy.... don't worry. Your not interesting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    The "if you've got nothing to hide" comments are pointless. Eventually they will change "what we will do with it" to "what we can do with it" and it's not going to be in our favor. Sharing it publicly to me does not mean share it with the FBI and let them take it out of context and extract me from my country.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    @105. robw_london "The more warning the better..."

    Right, so what you're saying is you have no problem with organisations spying constantly on the general populace, without cause for suspicion, just in *case* someone says something they don't like?


  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Twitter account closed, Facebook account to be closed shortly. Google abandoned.

    This does not make me a terrorist or a criminal, (which is no doubt the ridiculous, empty headed conclusion some of the less enlightened posters who frequent here will jump to).

    I'm just sick of being watched by hyper aggressive, humorless, joyless, paranoid idiots who see "potential threats" everywhere they look.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    And the real problems of 'scraping' are illustrated by the BBCs removal of my post no.43 - where I didn't make any racist, vulgar or inappropriate comments but - with appropriately placed asterisks - highlighted the sorts of comments sarcastically placed on social networking sites which would be 'captured' if the FBI were to follow through. Thank you BBC, :) QED!

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    This is a threat to the US Constitution.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    Hmmm. I run contemporary spy role-playing games online, and needless to say terrorist threats feature large. How will the FBI ensure that they don't get confused by my games and think they are genuine real-world threats?

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    The more warning the better, that's what we ask of them so they need the tools to do it. It is no different to sending someone to listen to the converstions in a pub where known (and perhaps unknown) trouble makers meet, just on a global scale. The same rules apply, if nothing suspicious is overheard then no action is required.

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Not a chance that 4chan will abuse this for lulz.

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    I could not help but laugh when I saw this article. Reminds me of the satirical news site The Onion and a piece they did about using facebook to track people. Some of their "news" was verbatim to what FBI is actually saying! They panned Twitter, however, stating that "millions of transmissions have produced no valuable information whatsoever." LOL!

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The only reason Google and Facebook are allowed to exist is because they are subject tot he patriot act. They have bought admitted to this. The idea that any of your data on this sites is private is wrong.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    jl45 - tell that to the Egyptians, Libyans etc. who made use of the internet during recent events. Something that they might not have been able to do if their government acted like the Americans are doing!

    It is a classic case of "we will only use this to catch terrorists"... oh & criminals, oh & people we think are pirating films, oh & those that we don't like..oh & .....

    Very slippery slope!

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    This is a welcome extension of the existing, perhaps controversial, activity of the NSA, GCHQ & other collaborating agencies seeking intelligence from cell phones, E Mails & other electronic transmissions. It would be surprising if social media dialogue was not so captured and analysed as a contribution to homeland security whether in the US or UK.

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    Facebook already uses a programme to keep track of its users. This information is then used for targeted advertising, however, what alarms me is the fact that this programme still monitors what sites you visit even after logging off from the dreaded FB

  • rate this

    Comment number 98.

    Everyone DIRTY BOMB just needs to add AL QAEDA random terrorist-type BOMB words to every TARGET tweet or Facebook status SEMTEX, or even Have Your Say ASSASSINATE post and the system POLONIUM will soon get overwhelmed and C4 give up.

  • rate this

    Comment number 97.

    If someone were planning something nefarious could they not use a pseudonym for their Facebook account? I know a dog, several cats and a hat, all of whom have Facebook accounts, so there doesn't seem to be any regulation of new accounts. In this case the FBI would be limited to catching those thoughtless enough to describe a crime on their usual account, of which I can't imagine there are many.

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    Say no to SOPA say no to ACTA.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    BTW - this could also help provide a safe place for Corporate Whistleblowers.... which is a rather pleasant idea.

    After all... Al Capone was put behind bars - not for murder - but for tax evasion.

    Oh Dear. Did I just draw a comparison between corporate crime and the mafia? Really? Surely I must have misspoke...

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    Oh well we'd better stop planning stuff on facebook then. Back to meetings down the pub to discuss blags! - only kidding Mulder & Scully.


Page 8 of 13


More Technology stories



BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.