The Federal Bureau of Investigation is soliciting bids. They’re looking for private contractors to sift through the tidal wave of real time social media messages flooding through Facebook and Instagram. They already have Twitter fairly well under control.
The Wall Street journal originally broke the story when they reported on the bid request. According to the WSJ, “The U.S. government needs ‘real time access to a full range of social media exchanges’ to better fight terrorist groups and domestic threats.”
Since the beginning of July, the feds have been looking for a provider that can tip agents off to violent incidents before they occur. They also want to be able to identify a user’s “ID numbers, IP addresses and telephone numbers” on demand.
As spelled out in the proposal, in order to win the bid the company has to be able to “proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States.”
The FBI started working with a company called Dataminr in 2016 to “search the complete Twitter firehose, in near real-time, using customizable filters.” CNN uses Dataminr’s services, they proudly note in their article.
CNN mentions that it isn’t yet clear if the FBI will take what they learned with Twitter and use it on the other platforms or start from scratch. The bureau wouldn’t confirm or deny to CNN if they already are monitoring Facebook or Instagram.
Civil Libertarians are appalled. “This proposal invites dragnet surveillance that history shows will disproportionately harm immigrants, communities of color, and activists, and it invites profit-seeking firms to violate Facebook and Twitter rules designed to keep users safe,” Matt Cagle warns. The attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California argues, “treating social media users like suspects won’t make us more safe, but it will make us less free.”
This is a total departure from the way things are generally done now. Before a social media platform turns over data to law enforcement, they are given a warrant naming a particular account.
Twitter harvests a lot more data than they share with the FBI though. A spokesman for the company insists that “the company’s terms for third parties prohibit developers from allowing law enforcement — or any other entity — to use Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period.”
Facebook’s security practices have long been under fire and only last month the social media giant was hit with a $5 billion slap on the wrist. Even though the FTC fine for the Cambridge Analytica scandal was the largest in history, it’s only a drop in the bucket to what Facebook pulls in.
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One good thing did come out of the settlement though. Facebook has to keep things like “names, geolocation data, phone numbers, IP addresses” and similar information confidential.
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