The FBI Might Be Monitoring Your Social Networks

Recently, the FBI busted the founders of the file hosting service for copyright infringement on a massive scale. Now it looks like the the government agency is in the market for a social media application to help them foresee and respond to crises.

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

The government is already believed to be using social networking sites for investigations, data collection, and surveillance.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Samuelson Clinic at U.C. Berkeley recently filed suit against several government agencies for refusing to disclose their policies. On January 24, the Department of Justice did release some of this information, which included draft search warrants and affidavits for Facebook and MySpace, as well as articles and PowerPoint presentations on how to use social networking sites for investigations.

Their findings revealed how few of our online activities are actually private. EFF’s Jennifer Lynch analyzed the highlights in a blog post:

The draft search warrants are particularly interesting because they show the full extent of data the government regularly requests on a person it’s investigating. This includes not just your full profile information but also who you “poke” (and presumably who “pokes” you), who rejects your friend requests, which apps you use, what music you listen to, your privacy settings, 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, and IP logs that can show if and when you viewed a specific profile and from what IP address you did so.

There are some concerns that such surveillance could have a negative impact on free speech. But just because the government is watching, doesn’t necessarily mean it is watching you.  The founders, for example, had a large-scale operation with 150 million registered users and 50 million daily visitors that accounted for four percent of the total traffic on the Internet. The indictment stated that the company had made an estimated $175 million in profits through advertising revenue and selling premium memberships for access to copyrighted works.  The total amount of damages to copyright holders is believed to be more than $500 million.

All this happened without the help of anti-piracy bills SOPA and PIPA, which were both postponed after an outpouring of concerns from the tech community, notably Wikipedia and Google.

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