FBI Seeks Tool to Keep Tabs on Social Media

In a move that has alarmed some privacy advocates, the FBI has begun scouting for a tool that will allow it to gather and mine data from blogs and social networks, including Facebook and Twitter.

The goal is to keep on top of breaking events, incidents and emerging threats, the agency said in a recent request for information (RFI) sent to IT vendors.

The FBI said it's seeking a "secure, lightweight Web application portal using mashup technology."

According to the RFI, "the application must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open-source information and intelligence that will allow [FBI analysts] to quickly vet, identify and geo-locate" potential threats to the U.S. The tool must also allow users to automatically search and scrape data off sites based on specific queries.

Social networking "is rivaling 911 services in crisis response and reporting," the RFI said.

In an Associated Press report , an FBI spokesman downplayed potential privacy issues, saying the system would be used only to monitor publicly available information and not to focus on specific individuals or groups. Still, Ginger McCall, director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center's Open Government Project, has called for proper oversight of the project.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

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