Forget celebrity gossip and tracking weather patterns – the US Department of Homeland Security sees Twitter as a potential goldmine of intelligence pertaining to possible domestic threats. The question is, how do you find the gold nuggets buried in the rubble?
Anyone following the news in the past year or so will have heard about how Twitter and other social networks played a big part in the Arab Spring uprisings across the Middle East. And while its exact impact is debatable, the DHS believes that these events have shocked world leaders into giving the little network a little more credit.
According to reports filed by the Associated Press, the DHS believes they need to be doing a better job monitoring Twitter in order to find the potential security intelligence it contains.
Caryn Wagner, the DHS Undersecretary, explains that there are still plenty of questions about how to go about using Twitter as a source of information:
“We’re still trying to figure out how you use things like Twitter as a source. How do you establish trends and how do you then capture that in an intelligence product?”
She went on to say that the DHS is setting guidelines on monitoring Twitter and Facebook, and that they are being very strict about adhering to laws that prevent spying on US citizens and protecting privacy.
Interestingly, Wagner states that the DHS is not actually actively monitoring any social network at any given time. Instead, they hire contractors to access these networks (and only then the publicly available information therein) whenever a credible threat is received.
It’s not surprising that the DHS is already monitoring Twitter and Facebook to follow up on threats, and is considering expanding this effort. Although it might sound a bit big brother-ish, there are no doubt a variety of uses that national security departments around the world could find for a real-time network like Twitter. But, as with businesses and individuals using the service, it all comes down to finding the right tools to monitor it effectively.