One of social media’s biggest benefits, from the governmental perspective, is that it encourages people to divulge all kinds of details about themselves publicly, making it easier to create a ubiquitous, panopticon-type surveillance system, otherwise known as the Eye of Sauron. Yay!
In the latest Sauron news, Raytheon, the global defense contractor with close ties to the U.S. government, has developed software that can track an individual’s physical location using information from social media including data embedded in photographs, according to a report in The London Guardian, which cited Raytheon principal investigator Brian Urch.
The unfortunately-acronymed Rapid Information Overlay Technology (RIOT) program also draws on information in social media posts to determine location and activities, suggesting a linguistic analysis capability. In a video obtained by the Guardian, Urch demonstrated how RIOT can use a series of check-ins, posts, photo data, and other information to create a precise daily itinerary for an individual.
Raytheon told the Guardian that “we are working on with industry, national labs and commercial partners to help turn massive amounts of data into useable information to help meet our nation’s rapidly changing security needs.” It also stated that features are being designed that will enable the “sharing and analysis of data without personally identifiable information being disclosed.”
Previously I’ve written about other initiatives to analyze social media information for surveillance and security purposes. In November 2012 Accenture Federal Services said it received a $3 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security to develop a “biosurveillance” system that will allow the Office of Health Affairs to monitor and react to national health emergencies via social media. In February 2012 The Federal Bureau of Investigation released details of a planned “Open Source and social media alert, mapping, and analysis application solution” able to scrape material from social networks about emerging threats and then superimpose the information graphically on maps, giving FBI analysts a spatial sense of the threat landscape.
In December 2011 the Department of Homeland Security revealed that it creates profiles to monitor “publicly available online forums, blogs, public websites, and message boards,” including social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, in what is known as the “Publicly Available Social Media Monitoring and Situational Awareness Initiative.” The DHS has also used social networks to ferret out fake “green card” marriages.
And in July 2011, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency solicited bids for a $42 million “Social Media in Strategic Communications (SMISC) program” to “develop a new science of social networks built on an emerging technology base” that can “detect, classify, measure and track... formation, development and spread of ideas and concepts,” including “purposeful or deceptive messaging and information”; “recognize persuasion campaign structures and influence operations across social media sites and communities”; “identify participants and intent, and measure effects of persuasion campaigns”; and “counter messaging of detected adversary influence operations.”