Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Is the FBI Monitoring Your Social Networks?

Everybody knows the FBI has been monitoring social media, yet they want to step it up more!

Social media has never been private. And the FBI has taken advantage of social media carelessness with all they've got. 

Although OSINT, better known as open-source intelligence, has been around for a long time, people continue to share photos, videos and personal info without a second thought. 

Not only does the FBI want a data-mining social media application, but InformationWeek reports that the CIA, DHS and the IARPA, also known as "the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency, are also interested in mining the Web. Pretty much every acronym in the book is for picking up clues about public opinion and news for use in only god knows what.

Even though this is all publicly available information, it's still a bit sinister, considering your 'personal info' could be misinterpreted and saved by a government database like the DHS database of secret watchlists

This is all not new, as the ACLU reported that spying on free speech was nearly at Cold War levels back in 2010. In 2010, the EFF also warned that Big Brother wants to be your friend on social media. And it's getting worse. The spying and data storage is at epidemic levels. Just this week, Napolitano said in her DHS pressrelease, "Think of it this way--if we have to look for a needle in a haystack, it makes sense to use all of the information we have about the pieces of hay to make the haystack smaller."

Recently, the FBI busted MegaUpload founders for copyright infringement on a massive scale. Now the government is in the market for a social media application to help them predict, prevent and respond to crises.

In fact, the FBI is looking for a geospatial and analysis mapping tool that will allow them to identify and geolocate events, incidents and emerging threats. Supposedly, this will be used for reconnaissance and surveillance, national security events planning and operations, counterintelligence, terrorism, “cyber” crime, SIOC (Semantically-Interlinked Online Communities) operations, as well as other missions. They want a flexible system that can adapt and identify a variety of situations.

The government has already been unofficially using social networking sites for investigations, data collection, and surveillance for quite some time. The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Samuelson Clinic at U.C. Berkeley filed suit against several government agencies recently for refusing to disclose their data collection policies. 

The Department of Justice did release some of this information on January 24, which included DPD draft search warrants and affidavits for Facebook and DOD draft search warrants and affidavits for MySpace, not to mention the articles and PowerPoint presentations on how to use social media sites for investigations.

The draft search warrants are especially interesting as they show the full extent of data the government regularly requests for investigations of people. This includes more than just people's profile information but also who you “poke” and who “pokes” you, who rejects your friend requests, what music you listen to, all photos you upload as well as any photos you’re tagged in (whether or not you upload them), who’s in each of your Facebook groups, which apps you use, your privacy settings and IP logs that can show if and when you viewed a specific profile and from what IP address you did so.

These findings did indeed reveal how few, if any, of our online activities are actually private. Yet still the government wants more. Here are some of their most requested capabilities:

The uncovered information did raise concerns that such surveillance could have a negative impact on free speech and freedom of the press. But just because the government is watching, doesn’t mean it is actually, officially watching you. MegaUpload.com for example, had a large-scale operation with 50 million daily visitors and 150 million registered users that accounted for 4% of the total traffic on the Internet. The indictment stated the company had made about $175 million in profits through advertising revenue and premium memberships. The amount of damages to copyright holders is believed to total more than $500 million.

What's really interesting is, that all of this occurred without the help of the censorship bills SOPA, PIPA or ACTA. It goes to show that there is already enough surveillance and censorship legislation and technology out there. Do we really need more?

Written By: Tom Retterbush

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