Friday, December 16, 2016

How the FBI is Monitoring Your Tweets

For those of us that generally pay little attention to the details about what is going on in government, a recent development should have us all concerned given the revelations about U.S. government snooping brought to light by Edward Snowden.  This development clearly show that the government simply can't know enough about us and our so-called "private lives" under the guise of battling terrorism.

Here, from the Federal Business Opportunities website is a recent solicitation on behalf of the Department of Justice/Federal Bureau of Investigation for quotes on a system that would allow the "federal cops" to search all of Twitter using under a program called "Social Media Awareness - Indicators and Warnings":

Here is the FBI's justification for this open dollar value, one-year contract:

The FBI wants to acquire 200 social media monitoring licences that will enable it to obtain "real time access to breaking news and events".  The justification notes that:

"Twitter is a platform where news first breaks on terrorist attacks, military actions, epidemiological events, and natural disasters, among other topics. The sum of all tweets generated by users globally - roughly 500,000,000+ per day and growing- is commonly referred to as the Twitter "firehose". The FBI needs access to the full firehose, along with the ability to search it, in real time, via customizable filters that track FBI investigative priorities.

Apparently, Dataminr is the only option that can provide the services needed to access all of Twitter and, as a "certified Official Twitter Data Partner", it is the only service that would allow the FBI to customize its own filters so that it can search the entire Twitter universe in real-time.

What is Dataminr?  According to their website and in their own words, Dataminr has the ability to:

"...transform the Twitter stream and other public datasets into actionable alerts, providing must-know information in real-time for clients in Finance, the Public Sector (i.e. the FBI), News, Corporate Security and Crisis Management.  Using powerful, proprietary algorithms, Dataminr instantly analyzes all public tweets and other publicly available data to deliver the earliest alerts for breaking news and real world events."

Dataminr was founded in 2009 by former Yale undergraduate roommates Ted Bailey, Jeff Kinsey and Sam Hendel and is headquartered in New York City

Here is a graphic showing how the system works, noting that it has the capability to process over 500 million tweets per day:

According to CNBC, Datamnir is considered one of its 2016 Disruptor 50 companies; that is, a company that is a forward-thinking startup that has identified niches in the marketplace and have the potential to become billion dollar companies.  Interestingly, Dataminr shares this distinction with Palantir Technologies, a company that hatched a plan to destroy WikiLeaks as you can read about here.

Obviously, the Federal Bureau of Investigation's aim (at least publicly) is to use Dataminr to catch terrorists and stop terrorism before it happens.  That said, one has to suspect that there are other possible reasons why the FBI would be interested in what transpires on Twitter on a daily basis because, apparently, the government can never know too much about us.

Without much ado, we are giving up our privacy one step at a time and no one is really watching.

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