Social media has been a driving force behind recent spurts
of social upheaval around the globe, from the Arab Spring to the current Occupy
Wall Street protests, and the federal government has begun to take notice and
ask some questions.
The Associated Press is reporting that the Department
of Homeland Security (DHS) is currently developing plans to monitor social
networks like Facebook and Twitter in order to collect information for law
enforcement purposes. And while that is sure to raise some eyebrows among civil
libertarians, Undersecretary Caryn Wagner took pains to reassure the public
that this will not be some kind of "Big Brother" situation.
The new protocols for network monitoring are "being
developed under strict laws meant to prevent spying on U.S. citizens and
protect privacy, including rules dictating the length of time the information
can be stored and differences between domestic and international surveillance,"
Wagner told the AP.
"We're still trying to figure out how you use things like
Twitter as a source," Wagner said. "How do you establish trends and how do you
then capture that in an intelligence product?"
Of course, the reassurances of the federal government will
likely do little to assuage the fears of social networkers with visions of a
newly minted DHS or FBI file dancing in their head, but as analyst Dan Olds told
Computer World "what do you expect?"
"The info [users] post online is essentially in the public
domain in most cases and it's easy to understand why the government would look
for any edge they can find vs. terrorists," Olds said.
"We'd like to hope that government security agencies are
ahead of the game when it comes to things like ferreting out useful
intelligence from social networking; then we learn that they're probably even
with, or maybe a bit behind, businesses on this score," he added.
Olds rightly argues, nothing you voluntarily post on the open Internet can reasonably be considered private. Yet it is not outlandish to want to know why and how the government is listening in.
As Americans choose to share more and more of their
everyday lives online --- including their political opinions and intended actions --- there is a potential intelligence goldmine for the nation's public safety and security officials to tap for useful information. As much as some may want to
make this latest DHS initiative out to be a modern day COINTELPRO, that is
simply not the case.
When your friends read your tweets it is called "social
networking." When the federal government reads them, it does not
automatically turn into "domestic spying."