The search portion of the application would scrape data from social networking sites and news sites, then provide instant notifications about breaking events, incidents, and emerging threats based on defined search parameters. It also would be capable of instantly searching and monitoring social networking sites and forums for keywords and strings. As to how that data would be used, the RFI says that "intelligence analysts will monitor social media looking for threatening responses to news of the day, such as a major policy announcement by the federal government, for responses to natural disasters, or indicators of pending adverse events."
Drawing on that data, the system would present alerts visually on a geospatial maps, which would include critical infrastructural layers. Those layers would comprise data about domestic and worldwide terror groups; locations of U.S. embassies, consulates, and military installations; weather conditions and forecasts; and traffic videos. From there, the FBI would want for users to be able to create and share reports summarizing threats and incidents.
This social media analysis tool that the FBI envisions is certainly intriguing on paper, and it's not tough to imagine it's entirely feasible to build in this age of tools of gathering, slicing, and dicing Big Data. The fact that the tool (per the RFI) would only be drawing on already-public social media data might reduce any concerns privacy advocates might have, though arguably the average social media user would be unaware that his or her data might be used in that way and would have no way to opt out of that usage, save for making his or her tweets private.
What's more, we're also in a day and age where at least some retailers are eager to track users comings and goings through their cell phones; where our Facebook friends can share data about us that we might not want them to share; where companies of all sizes are increasingly hording, leveraging, and sometimes selling data about users to third parties. Combine this system with those others types of data (along with other data the FBI might have in its troves), and the potential for privacy invasion and abuse become all the more concerning.
This story, "FBI seeks Big Brother-'Minority Report' hybrid," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Get the first word on what the important tech news really means with the InfoWorld Tech Watch blog. For the latest developments in business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.