The Federal Bureau of Investigation has posted a social media application seeking contractors to build a system that can monitor social media for potential security threats. This news comes from the FBI’s Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC), which indicates that the system should be able to collect public or “open source” information from social media networks, such as Facebook and Twitter.
The description posted along with the application indicates that the SIOC is looking for something highly flexible, so that agents can maintain alerts, filter data geographically, and quickly adapt to changing security crises. This document contains a comprehensive list of requirements, including abilities to plot global terrorist data, locate embassies, view real-time traffic or mob scenes, and monitor natural disasters.
According to the New Scientist, “The document also suggests that the FBI thinks it can use social media to peer into the future. It notes that agents need to use social media to '[p]redict likely developments in the situation or future actions taken by bad actors (by conducting, [sic] trend, pattern, association, and timeline analysis)'".
While the application document reads like a detailed want ad, the inconspicuous manner in which the plan was revealed has already raised privacy concerns.
According to Mashable, “While privacy advocates have bristled at the idea of social media monitoring, the government position is that if information is public, it’s fair game for scraping and monitoring.”
Supporting the idea that the application would focus on public, not private, information, the application document lists one of the operational capabilities as “Automated search for national news, local news, and social media networks. Example are included but not limited to Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc.”
It even specifies that agents should be able to search "publicly available" tweets.
The New Scientist reports that the FBI declined to comment immediately.