The Associated Press reports: The U.S. government is seeking software that can mine social media to predict everything from future terrorist attacks to foreign uprisings, according to requests posted online by federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
Hundreds of intelligence analysts already sift overseas Twitter and Facebook posts to track events such as the Arab Spring. But in a formal “request for information” from potential contractors, the FBI recently outlined its desire for a digital tool to scan the entire universe of social media — more data than humans could ever crunch.
The Department of Defense and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence also have solicited the private sector for ways to automate the process of identifying emerging threats and upheavals using the billions of posts people around the world share every day.
“Social media has emerged to be the first instance of communication about a crisis, trumping traditional first responders that included police, firefighters, EMT, and journalists,” the FBI wrote in its request. “Social media is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting.”
The proposals already have raised privacy concerns among advocates who worry that such monitoring efforts could have a chilling effect on users. Ginger McCall, director of the open government project at the Washington, D.C.-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said the FBI has no business monitoring legitimate free speech without a narrow, targeted law enforcement purpose.
“Any time that you have to worry about the federal government following you around peering over your shoulder listening to what you’re saying, it’s going to affect the way you speak and the way that you act,” McCall said.