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The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has amended an earlier announcement seeking to acquire a tool that would allow it to conduct broad and thorough surveillance of social media platforms.

The purpose of the tool is to provide “early alerts” by implementing near real-time monitoring of “persons of interest” and their activities online.

The idea that a terrorist or criminal group, much less a foreign intelligence service, might use social platforms for its activities might appear somewhat suspect on the face of it; however, that seems to be the thinking behind FBI's decision to acquire the said tool.

The agency claims in the documents accompanying the request that “virtually every incident and subject” of what it termed as its “investigative interest” is present online – presumably on social media.

“The FBI needs near real-time access to a full range of social media exchanges to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions,” the request for proposals said.

At the same time, reports about the proposal specified that in addition to in-depth profiling of terrorists, criminals, and spies, the agency also wants full access to “other domestic threats” who are advancing their illegal efforts by using “networking platforms.”

The FBI first issued its call for proposals last month, and has now published it again to state that the deadlines in the bid-gathering process and for picking the winner have been extended by several weeks.

The contractor that is eventually selected to provide the tool will give the agency access to user IDs, location, phone numbers, IP and email addresses, and the entirety of a person-of-interest's social media history. Also, the FBI wants access to these person's “likely additional account with similar IDs or aliases.”

But a comprehensive online surveillance tool of this sort is also a controversial proposition, given the high potential for abuse, and with various groups likely to raise concerns about it from their different angles.


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