Twitter, the FBI, and You‏

From Mother Jones:

In the future, if you tweet out a photo of a hilarious, meme-tastic kitten, it might be best not to include terms like “white powder,” “dirty bomb,” or “Death to America.”

Since late January, the Federal Bureau of Investigation has been asking the IT industry to help it develop an open-source social-media application that would provide a panoramic real-time picture of any “breaking event, crisis, activity, or natural disaster…in progress in the U.S. or globally,” according to statements released by the agency. Essentially, the bureau wants to crowd-source software that would data-mine Twitter and other websites to scan for—and perhaps predict—mass uprisings, criminal activity, and terror plots.

To make something like what the FBI is looking for, a programmer would have to write a script to yank content from, say, open Facebook profiles and Twitter feeds. Once the data is obtained, it can be quickly searched for key terms. The next step is “geotagging”—tying individual posts to specific geographical locations. But the app would have to deal with more than just keywords. Ideally, the FBI wants a “threat index” that combines multiple metrics such as locations, links, and networks into one waterfall search engine. Think Klout, but souped-up for the NatSec establishment.

At first glance, the concept seems sensible enough. It’s no surprise the US government would want to use every resource possible to stay ahead of the news and intelligence curve in case a new crisis hits at home or abroad. And because the program would be aimed at monitoring open sources, it might not sound like a major civil-liberties tripwire, since tweets and online forums are usually available for anybody to view.

Still, the idea of Big Brother checking up on whom you’ve friended on Facebook or watching the embarrassing videos you’ve posted on YouTube might be off-putting, even if you’re not a die-hard civil libertarian. Such initiatives are probably legal, says Rebecca Jeschke, a digital-rights analyst at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, but they’re also “creepy.”

Continue reading the rest of the story at Mother Jones