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.

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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.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    I worry deeply about the seemingly obvious stance that if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear, because it ignores the potential for collateral damage. I maintain surveillance may have ended our marriage, when my wife's 6 month long secret affair caught the notice of security monitors, because they short circuited her ability to deal naturally with her dilemma, before damage resulted.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Sounds like the surveillance technology that is part of a growing market...

    They have all this technology...there are various international trade fairs...

    Most governments are investing in it...

    I wonder if Hague has revoked export licenses of UK firms exporting this tech to EGYPT, SYRIA, IRAN ???

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    No one has been able to explain in a rational manner in what way this will hinder my liberties. I will still be able to post what I want, when I want, and where I want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    I recall 2600 smallpox-leaking gangs from a movie I saw once. No doubt there'll be a Black Hawk helicopter in whisper mode outside my window before I finish typi~~''@@

    C'mon, what difference does a social network app make? As long as there are "intelligence" services, they're going to get away with shooting us for no reason from time to time anyway. It's a lottery.

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    With such paranoia, the only one shaping up to be the terrorist is the United States of America!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    The use of Information for purposes other than the reason it was supplied under British Law ... does this mean we will be able to extradite the Director of the FBI to appear in a UK court for infringement of our Data Protection Law?

    Two chances, Fat and No is my best guess!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    The tools they want already exist, with better applications!

    TWLOHW uses Facebook API to search all friends' posts for keywords relating to depression, so you can help.

    YouLing, on the Mac App Store, allows real-time translation of posts in other languages, as you hover over text with your mouse.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Surely an intelligence service that wants to develop an effective early warning system shouldn't publish their plans on the internet about how they're going to do it. It doesn't seem that intelligent?

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    How can this be a privacy issue??
    If you are one of the 800 Million Facebook Lemmings, what private stuff are you not willing to say in a public place? Oh hiding behind the supposed annonimity of the internet. Get a life... Please

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    One of the red flag words they look for is *recall*? In what world -- other than that of 1984 -- is a Federal law enforcement agency justified in spying on people for discussing the perfectly legal process of demanding and organizing an election to RECALL an elected official who has behaved so badly that citizens want a chance to replace him? Sounds like J. Edgar's paranoia all over again.

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    "If they build a better mousetrap and you and I and everyone else stays safer, I'm good with that."

    Think it was Ben Franklin said something like "He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    2600: The Hacker Quarterly is indeed what they are referring to. Emanual Goldstein took the number of Hz that the phone systems in the US used to be vulnerable to. It was discovered by a young person - back then - that a toy in the cereal Capt Crunch generated that tone and playing around he realized what it could do. This is how the bluebox came about. He then took the handle of Capt's Crunch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    The majority of Intelligence disasters have been the failure to correctly analyse and interpret the information they already have - NOT that they did not have the data in the first place.

    As well as the implications for free speech etc. this may well be counter-productive as the agencies will be swamped wit yet more noise.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    I don't know who I trust least the corporations or the governments. Oh! hold on...
    What are they gonna do when were all on FreeNet.

  • rate this

    Comment number 179.

    the support of those advocating/embracing the 'intelligence gathering communities' rationale for proposed action is touching,no doubt reinforced by their past spectacular successes (establishing the presence of WMD's in iraq) to name but one.You can present observational/circumstantial intelligence 'evidence' in whatever context best supports your position.

    'what rough beast, it's time come'...

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    This is how the worst diseases in the body work. Remember that your arch nemesis will look like you, speak like you, do what you do, and then strike you from within. Either stand and fight for freedoms that are hard fought, or become enslaved. I do not believe that anyone should rule over what I think, sense and communicate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 177.

    You will need to watch what you post here in the future, otherwise the yanks will be using the one sided extradition treaty the poodle Blair signed with brain dead bush to extradite you if you write something they don’t like.

    You’ll probably find yourself renditioned to some third world country to be tortured before being shipped to gitmo.

  • rate this

    Comment number 176.

    Coming soon:

    Copy of every email sent out by anyone to anyone will be forwarded to Homeland Security. Unless... it is happening already....

  • rate this

    Comment number 175.

    You have more chance of being killed by a champagne cork, bee or deer than a terrorist in USA so why are they arming their law enforcement to the teeth with military grade weapons including predator drones. This kit will be used against their OWN PEOPLE!

  • rate this

    Comment number 174.

    Everybody needs to include the words "gangs", "small pox", "leak", "recall" and "2600" in all of their posts to any forum from now on. Let's give the feds something to do.


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