The FBI has decided to further ramp up its surveillance of social media platforms.
An announcement published on the Federal Business Opportunities website said the agency was seeking proposals from companies to acquire an “early alerting tool in order to mitigate multifaceted threats.”
A statement of objectives, attached to the call for proposals, explains that the tool should be to designed to target social media in search of potential threats. And it will have to be able to do this in quite a broad manner.
Although the very first paragraph of the request also makes sure to note that the tool must comply with “all privacy and civil liberties requirements” – the announcement is certain to cause concern among privacy and digital rights activists due to the huge potential for abuse.
Namely, the statement of objectives explains that the FBI is seeking to have access to information coming from “constant monitoring of social platforms based on keywords.”
These must be “relevant to national security and location,” the agency further explained.
The tool is next required to provide the FBI with content filtering that includes “specific subjects, identifiers, geographic location, keywords, photographic tagging.”
In addition, the FBI wants the selected tool to be able to give it with “relevant historical social media traffic for further analysis.”
The FBI wants to gain access to complete social media information of “persons of interest” – including their email and IP addresses, user IDs, and phone numbers.
It may be worth mentioning that “a person-of-interest” is a poorly defined term, that usually means law enforcement agencies think these individuals may be involved in criminal activity – but also that they have not been arrested or formally charged, therefore, do not qualify as suspects.
But who might qualify as a person-of-interest in the context of FBI's push to expand the scope of its social media surveillance? Judging by the report, this is again broad, and even vague: these are persons who might be engaged in terrorism, or involved in “domestic threats and criminal activity.”
The CIA has its own tools to accomplish the same purpose – i.e., to heavily data-mine and monitor social media.
All this leads to fears that the large surveillance apparatus with a poor previous track record might easily end up infringing on the rights of innocent social media users.