This evening’s edition of All Tech Considered on NPR featured an intriguing story on the FBI’s new plans to monitor social media sites for intelligence purposes. You can view the FBI’s public solicitation to IT companies on the FedBizOpps.gov website. In summary, the FBI hopes to use public social media posts in a variety of ways. 1) Analyze what is happening and where through a geospacial mapping app (searching instances of keywords, etc. that flag security threats). 2) Use current and past tweets/posts to create a system for identifying the “bad actors” behind menacing posts in order to track them geographically and/or through their social media behavior. 3) Perhaps the most controversial potential in this “government app,” as pointed out by Sean Gourley of Quid in the NPR interview, is how they plan to use this data to predict future events. It opens doors to what you could call social media profiling. By looking at traits of known “bad actors” they can form their own social media profile stereotypes. Essentially, if a person does X and says Y…then they must be a bad actor and should be monitored (regardless of their actual threat to society).
This story touches on the somewhat out-of-character choice by the government to go public with this strategy. Gourley logically points out that the talent needed for this kind of project can’t really be found in government already and they need to tap into the private sector. He is probably right on that point, but to me, the idea of a government agency like the FBI being so completely intertwined and reliant on a for-profit tech company puts a new twist on privacy and the concept behind the GNI. What if the government is the IT service?
To see a more detailed article on what exactly the FBI hopes to accomplish with this app check out ZDNet.