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 213.

    'dragnet effect'. More like 'skynet effect!

  • rate this

    Comment number 212.

    210....yes rather lamentable our Surrey Police...

    Corruption was endemic within the phone hacking malarky..

    Small fry to the hypocrisy of western democracies selling surveillance tech to despotic regimes supressing pro democracy protesters...its breathtaking..

  • rate this

    Comment number 211.

    49.Ed in Canada
    Facebook and Google. Anything they collect and keep "on record" could be considered "public"...forever.
    Considered "public"... It is public, what else could it be.
    People are not naive(stupid) enough to put any thing on a social media site that you wouldn't stand up in a public place a say are they?

  • rate this

    Comment number 210.

    208. "Phone hacking will pale into insignificance , once e-mail interception hits the front pages.."

    interesting. to serve as a distraction perhaps, knowing about the failures of Surrey police &c?

  • rate this

    Comment number 209.

    Governments should not be spending my money on spy stuff when they can't even take care of the economy. For governments talking about deficits, this is pretty frivolous. I'd rather suffer a million hacks than waste my tax money and people's time scanning facebook and twitter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 208.

    Radio 4 did a wonderfully insightful prog on this topic, talking with various illumanaries, talking about the extent of the tech and its proglivacy..

    Germany is still in uproar..a court case pending against erm the Gov for having tech that installs trojan horses..

    Phone hacking will pale into insignificance , once e-mail interception hits the front pages..

  • rate this

    Comment number 207.

    Add your comment...

  • rate this

    Comment number 206.

    CCTV with micro phones..

    Fingerprinting schoolkids

    It was in fact the UK...during Nu Labours rabid obsession with surveillance..

    Fortunately common sense prevailed both were revoked after protest..

    GCHQ made a rare statement on its Master the Internet tech..thank god for the Information Commissioner eh ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 205.

    If I was a conspiracy theorist(where's my tin foil hat) I bet if you dig really, really, really, deep who knows? You may find somebody from certain agencies may have planted the seeds of ideas for certain .com social media concepts into some unsuspecting pattsies...mmm
    Now sit back and wait a while all that lovely information to be mined.
    Must go, got to feed my secure message carriers.. Cooooo

  • rate this

    Comment number 204.

    "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."

    True, but will you still be around to talk about it the week after. Don't forget, we have a fantastic extradition agreement with the US that allows them to have any British citizen they want, no questions asked.

  • rate this

    Comment number 203.

    I doubt it will effect privacy, since a simple tweet about 'blowing up the White House' ought not be flagged. If designed properly, it will look for genuine patterns of concern in repeated communications. Also, things like Facebook are in the public sector, so it would be impossible to stop people analysing messages posted on there. That said, I don't trust the CIA - they thrive on paranoia.

  • rate this

    Comment number 202.

    "It also highlighted words it looked out for."

    I "recall" a "gang" of "2600" football hooligans taking a synchronised "leak", I wish the "small pox" on all of them. ;)

  • Comment number 201.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 200.

    "I'm all for it, anything to help the authorities stop criminals in their tracks, the only ones who should be worried are those with something to hide."

    That's what people were saying in Europe before the start of the second world war and look what happened there. The watchers need to be watched as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

    How paranoid governments become when the people are running things!

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    An Italian firm supplied Syria with surveillance tech , which enables them to hack computers and intercept all e-mails..

    IRONICALLY a US firm was also involved in erm interception within Syria...the EU has since banned all further exports of all the different surveillance tech to Syria...other continents are at liberty to step in..

    This info is all on public record..just google ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    New from the people who turned civil rights violations into a daily occurrence, and not satisfied with that, comes the new and improved methods of insuring civil rights violation are now measured in seconds, and mico seconds.

    What ever next, the C.I.A selling drugs to fund black-ops?

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    I bet Syria's secret police would love this! And don't kid yourself that the FBI or any other police force in any of the so-called "free/democratic" countries would not use this to suppress free speech.
    We are already on the slippery slope of Orwellian "Big Brother" snooping, this just accelerates it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    This tech is a godsend to autocratic and despotic regines, alongside mobile phone surveillance tech, it allows the tracking of undesirables ?

    As evidenced by the Arab Sring Uprisings...

    Questions asked in the House of Lords...you might as well sell bullets, to regimes looking to quell pro democracy chappies..

    We`re sleepwalking into a surveillance society..

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    "The document says: "Social media has become a primary source of intelligence..""

    maybe that's why the 'intelligence community' thought Saddam Hussain had WMD's. risible, to think that with all the tax money that's thrown at security, the best they can come up with is looking at Facebook and Twitter..


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