FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

Summary: The FBI is looking to monitor all public information posted on social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace. The organization is asking for an app to do all the scraping automatically.


The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is looking to develop a Web app that can continuously monitor social networks, including Facebook, Twitter, and Myspace, as well as various news feeds. The organization's goal is to improve its real-time intelligence when it comes to current and emerging security threats.

The plan for such an app was inadvertently revealed by the FBI's Strategic Information and Operations Center (SOIC) in a solicitation for a "Social Media Application." The FBI typically avoids openly discussing how social networks are used as an intelligence tool, but the 12-page Request for Information document (PDF, half the pages are oddly blank) reveals in detail what the organization is interested in.

The FBI specifies the following operational capabilities for the app (notice the second and last points in particular):

  • Provide an automated search and scrape capability of both social networking sites and open source news sites for breaking events, crisis, and threats that meet the search parameters/keywords defined by FBI SIOC.
  • Ability for user to create, define, and select parameters/key word requirements. Automated search of national news, local news, and social media networks. Examples include but are not limited to Fox News. CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • Ability for user to create, define, and select radius search functions that can be searched independently or in combination with an identified key word search/parameter.
  • Provide automated filtering of data that has been searched and collected based on defined search parameters.
  • Provide instant notifications of breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats that have been vetted and meet the defined search parameters.
  • Ability to display alerts visually by geo-locating alerts onto a geospatial map. Displayed alerts should be prioritized (i.e. color coded) in accordance with FBI defined priorities.
  • Ability to clear alert or maintain alert until its final resolution to be determined by the FBI designated user.
  • Ability to save and archive the alerts.
  • Ability for user to instantly select desired national and local news feeds to monitor breaking events and emerging threats, scrape the vetted news and social media information.
  • Ability to immediately access geospatial maps with coding in addition to providing critical infrastructural layers. Preferred maps include but are not limited to Google Maps, Google 3D maps, ESRI, and Yahoo Maps.
  • Ability to create templates that will allow user to quickly summarize (i.e. who, what, when, where, and why) threats/incidents identified and alerted by the application with geo-coordinates included. Ability available to immediately ingest the information into the Spot Report for time-sensitive threats/incidents.
  • Ability for user to immediately disseminate the summarized threat or incident by either single alert notification or mass notification to the appropriate field office and FBI Executive Management.
  • Ability to capture and summarize the investigative efforts conducted by the Field Office for resolution of the incident.
  • Provide "Spot Report" folders to save and archive past reports.
  • Ability to support Field offices by region by pre-designated or established tabs that will mirror the basic functional capabilities as the main SIOC site.
  • Each tab should have the flexibility to make immediate changes to effectively support the mission requirements for a specific division.
  • Ability to instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all "publicly available" tweets across the Twitter Site and any other "publicly available" social networking sites/forums (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.).

Other parts of the document outline analytical capabilities and security requirements. This is a rare glimpse into what the FBI requires for its monitoring applications and shows just how seriously the government agency thinks about social media. The document, which was released on January 19, asks companies which might want to build such a monitoring system for the FBI to reply by February 10.

Privacy advocates have been strongly opposed to social media monitoring, especially if the data is saved and stored for long periods of time. If the scraping is limited to only publicly-available posts, however, they don't have much of an argument.

The FBI app in question would likely include the most content from Twitter and Myspace users, since both sites have users that share publicly more often than privately. As Facebook pushes its subscribe feature further and emphasizes sharing more and more, however, the social networking giant is only going to see more public content from its users, and thus so will the FBI.

See also:

Topics: Government US, Government, Hardware, Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years,
he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars
Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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  • And the nooose keeps tightening

    The Feds can kiss my ass. [since I have no doubt I've already made one their innumerable black lists, enjoy kissing it again] But social network monkeys beware: they're watching and waiting. Eavesdropping is apparently "green lighted" now.

    The reality is, the Federal government has become the biggest enemy of all in this country. They stick their nose into everything but where it's needed (snooping on citizens, pandering to Hollywood, promoting their odious One-World order, warring for Israel and Big Oil), and then are nowhere to be found where they ARE needed (corporate oversight, banking oversight, job protection, border enforcement, etc).

    About all one can count on the Feds to deliver (and this includes their enforcement agency arms, now grown to too many to name, yet funded from depleted taxpayer pockets) is continued financial mismanagement, self aggrandizement, a perennial lack of prioritization, and expansion everywhere they can throw citizenry dollars.

    Lest we forget the Federal hallmark of hallmarks: LCD promotion in the name of dumbing down the nation. Net result = America continues to plummet.

    Of course, we the [s]people[/s] sheeple pay for all this, so you get what you deserve. That's because the Feds know, and maintain at taxpayer expense, the golden rule of sovereignty: people are better controlled when they're paupers and puppets.
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      @klumper - 9/11 did a number on the psyche of the American people that will take decades to recover from, if ever. The authoritarians were quick to take advantage, and somehow implant the ideas that safety is more important than anything (even slavery), and that the authorities are both benevolent and infallible. Today's citizens watch daily news items about abuses of power, malfeasance and coverups without blinking an eye. Millions of hours of cop shows on TV have somehow convinced the public that "the law" has our best interests at heart, and we should be thankful that they are all honest, brave, hardworking, wise, open-minded, and quick to acknowledge when they make mistakes. Did I forget good-looking, well-mannered, and kind to pets?

      The reality is a lot different. Even when intentions are good, the system is still full of sloppy work, indifference, incompetence and politics. Attempts to cast a little light on the process gets reactions that vary from a gentle pat on the head and vague reassurances, to outright hostility and retaliation. When common citizens get caught in the gears, the machine is imponderable and often unstoppable, so the poor souls have little hope for true justice.

      It's a standard saying, but the best way to stay out of trouble is to never put anything on the web in *any* form that you wouldn't want published in the paper, laid on your boss' desk, or now, put in a police report. Facebook in particular offers another pitfall: friends. The Patriot Act has resurrected the crime of "guilt by association", so who you are friends with is a lot more significant than it used to be. When that cute Iranian college student you met in Paris and added to your Facebook list turns out to be a Revolutionary Guard officer in a couple of years, your name will get added to lists you really don't want to be on ...
      terry flores
      • FBI guilty by association... they are part of the gov.

        @terry flores .... that means 100% useless, 100% inept, 100% overpaid, 100% incompetent, 100% criminal.

        American.... Land of the freely exploited.
        Reality Bites
      • FBI guilty by association...

        @Reality Bites-- no, it has simply become popular for the right wing to hate the country they profess to love. Patriotism isn't a claim you can make, and people who hate something can't be trusted to fix it.
      • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

        I can't get a reply button to show where I need it so I'll add my comment here.@dunmerbob - Wow! Who changed the definition of a patriot? A patriot stands for the Constitution instead of standing for the control-freaks who are trampling all over it. The patriots are those like Reality Bites who are appalled at the trampling of our Constitution & the people it was designed to protect. You're right though. People who hate something can't be trusted to fix it. Hint: those who hate America are now running the show. That's why things are going from bad to worse - & very rapidly at that.
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      @klumper > "Like."
  • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

    This article is one further reason to dump as many incumbents as possible in November.
    • Americans need to learn a new game....

      @nikacat .... called "Flip the Clown".... which ever clown is in office gets flipped into the street and another clown put in office.

      After two turns of flip the clown the clowns would know who is back in charge.
      Reality Bites
  • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

    It's starting to look like the best course of action now is to begin acquiring as many weapons and as much ammunition as possible, without going through any approved paperwork, so that when they finally do start coming around to seize them from people, they won't have your name on their lists.
  • I think spammers already have scrapping tools like this

    I've seen stuff like this offered for sale on various black hat sites. But our government will spend millions on an app from a contractor that has the right lobbying connections. The sad thing is that it probably won't work as well as the spammer's tool.
  • Billions of dollars a year are already spent on Carnivore and ECHELON

    This is nothing new. Programs like Carnivore and ECHELON have been around long before 9/11. Welcome to the Digital Age.
    Your Non Advocate
  • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

    Internet content is public - do not expect any privacy when you post your life story all over internet. You expect privacy - do not post. Anyone can establish Facebook, Twiitter, MySpace account and have access to any information unless it was specifically blocked by user. But, even then we know that this information can be hacked. So, the safest assumption can be - DO NOT EXPECT PRIVACY on internet.
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      You are correct @t2005. Once you post something on the internet (like this post), it is public so you need to think before you put anything on the internet.
      Also if you try remove your information, blog, statement, etc it will cached in some search engine somewhere so your information will live in cache for nearly forever.
  • They better invent some AI to go with the app.

    With the Federal Bureau of Incompetence's record of monumental screwups it will need to come with several hundred supercomputers worth of Artificial intelligence.

    Between the fbi and cia the world of "Get Smart" and inspector gadget has truly come about. Throw in some keystone cops and 3 stooges and you have any modern gov Bureau.
    Reality Bites
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      @Reality Bites ... That's an attitude that'll take you far in life. Not necessarily up, but far.
  • And people wonder why I advocate killing FBI agents

    Don't get me wrong, show me an FBI agent who follows the Constitution by the letter and the intent, and I'll show you a rare individual worthy of the job. Unfortunately, far too many of them are criminals with a badge just like John Connolly.

    The FBI should never be allowed to go on fishing expeditions beyond the publicly available pages of any social media without a clear and legally signed warrant. You can read the public pages all you want, just like the newspapers. But you can't require the social media companies to aid you, just as you can't force newspapers to divulge their sources.
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      @Dr_Zinj ... Reread the article; they aren't requiring anything at all from the social media. Nada, zip. You talk like a criminal who needs to show their strength but doing so behind a wall like this won't help give the results you want.
  • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

    "half the pages are oddly blank"<br>They aren't 'oddly' blank--someone just scanned in the paper document as a two-sided document, when the paper only has writing on the front sides. That's why it's ever-other page that is blank. You're just wrongfully adding gas to the government conspiracy fire......
  • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

    Honestly, if it is posted publicly, they have a right to read it and posting anything on facebook, etc. is public.

    All that this does is make it easier for them to monitor what they are most assuredly already doing and rightfully so, as they can use this information to better protect security.

    Now if they monitor my private message that I send to you (not posting on your wall) on facebook without a warrant, that would not be legal.
    • RE: FBI to monitor Facebook, Twitter, Myspace

      @cmwade1977 ... You better read up on the warrant situation at the fbi site. I use it often, myself.