FBI Proposes To Use Social Network Behaviour To 'Predict' Crimes


In becoming ever more tactile in waging war against the criminals of this world, the FBI is asking companies to develop software that will be able to 'scrape' posts, tweets and messages for key 'danger' words and phrases from social network accounts, in addition to monitoring a persons' behaviour through acquiring information from the public domain in order to better track criminal security threats or situations. Succinctly, the Bureau is asking would-be contractors to come up with a software that can “enhance its techniques for collecting and sharing 'open source' actionable intelligence”.

In what sounds vaguely Minority Report-esque in its implementation of being able to detect 'emerging threats' before the criminal activity has fully developed, the use of such a software is met with heavy resistance from free speech campaigners, including Jennifer Lynch from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. She told New Scientist that it would erode the sense of freedom we currently enjoy from the world-wide web, “The internet gives people a sense of freedom to say what they want without worrying too much about recourse. But these tools that mine open source data, and presumably store it for a very long time, do away with that kind of privacy.” She concluded, resolutely, “I worry about the effect of that on free speech in the U.S.” The Department of Homeland Security stated, “information posted to social media websites is publicly accessible and voluntarily generated. Thus the opportunity to provide information exists prior to the informational post by the user.”

Some of the more interesting requirements for the software were outlined in the FBI's Request for Information document. Here are the most interesting:

  • Provide an automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats that meet the search parameters/keywords defined by FBI SIOC.

  • Ability for user to create, define, and select parameters/key word requirements. Automated search of national news, local news, and social media networks. Examples include but are not limited to Fox News. CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

  • Ability to instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all “publicly available” tweets across the Twitter Site and any other “publicly available” social networking
    sites/forums (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.).

Although the idea sounds like a step in the right direction on the way to combating terrorism where access to, potential, criminal behaviour is, potentially, within plain view of the public, the very thought of a software trawling through our every post and tweet sounds invasive, even in the age of openly-accessible data. 

 Source: Social Media Application Request for Information