Out-Hoover Hoover: FBI wants massive data-mining capability for social media
27 January 2012
The FBI is asking industry for help in developing a far-reaching data-mining application that can gather and analyze intelligence from social media sites.
The FBI wants “to determine the capability of industry to provide an open source and social media alert, mapping, and analysis application”, the agency said in a request for information (RFI).
“The application must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence that will allow SIOC [Strategic Information and Operations Center] to quickly vet, identify, and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats”, the RFI explained.
The application must be able to provide an “automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats.”
The FBI also wants the capability to analyze the social media data to provide early warning; detect credible threats or monitor adversarial situations; locate bad actors or groups and analyze their movements, vulnerabilities, limitations, and possible adverse actions; predict likely developments or future actions taken by bad actors; and develop databases on the information gathered from social media sites.
Nowhere in this detailed RFI, however, does the FBI ask industry to comment on the privacy implications of such massive data collection and storage of social media sites. Nor does the FBI say how it would define the “bad actors” who would be subjected this type of scrutiny.
I am dismissing the terrorist angle right off the bat, as given perhaps a handful of kook exceptions, most truly determined terrorists are not going to announce their intentions on a public forum.
That brings us to a far larger question which is, what exactly is the government looking to do here?
Having read a great deal of history over the course of my life, I am fully aware that all governments have their totalitarian leanings, and ours is no different.
Historically, governments do not much like dissent, and as they become larger and more powerful, their intolerance of dissent grows right along with them. At first, it is threats and intimidation. Later on, it becomes incarceration, and all too often after that come the gallows, firing squads, or the gas chambers.
Way back in the Usenet days, I formed a theory that government was most likely monitoring what was being posted, and probably recording things that might catch its interest. In the years since and given what I have seen, that theory has been reinforced several times over.
Of course, there is no case to be made that government monitoring public forums is illegal, but the idea that it may ultimately be not a little sinister is not all that much of a stretch.
After all, we are now existing in a surveillance society, and when you factor in the Obama administration’s track record of open hostility when it comes to its detractors, the term ‘bad actor’ could mean just about anything.
You see, it is not the terms themselves, but who gets to define them that ultimately matters.