FBI Looking for Application To Monitor Social Media and News Websites

Damon Poeter for PC Magazine recently wrote an article about how the Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking to the tech industry to develop an app that will monitor social websites and even some news sites for danger words.  Follow this link to view a complete PDF version of the RFI, or Request for Information by the FBI.

Poeter states in his article, ” The ad even lists some prominent sites the government wants to get better acquainted with—Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, Twitter, and Facebook, to be specific. Drilling down into the “operational capabilities” of the proposed app, the guidelines call for it to “instantly search and monitor key words and strings in all ‘publicly available’ tweets across the Twitter site and other ‘publicly available’ social networking sites/forums (i.e. Facebook, MySpace, etc.).”  

Basically the FBI wants to monitor these sites for breaking events, crisis and other emerging threats.  Of course it’s carefully stated that these are just examples and the operational capabilities as well as search parameters are not limited to those listed in the RFI.  Anyone interested in submitting an application to the FBI must do so by Friday, February 10.

So the question is this:  Should we be brushing up on our George Orwell writings or find solace in the fact that our government is looking out for us?

This little tidbit of information, I must admit, disturbed me.  If such an application is implemented, will news websites, its reporters, and followers need to proceed with caution?

I’ve read some of the comments on random news sites, and some can be, well, a bit colorful to say the least.  Some people will use these comment boxes as a way to vent or share their occasionally, very strong opinions on a given topic.  Does this represent a slippery slope to the existence of a “Thought Police” and should citizens and journalists alike be concerned that something they tweet, post on Facebook or comment on a CNN or Fox News article will be seen as a threat by the government?

I’m wary of the government developing such applications, and worry about any possible future impact this may have on our freedoms of speech and of the press.  This may be nothing.  It may be something.  What we can say for sure at the moment, is that this is most definitely a topic to keep an eye on and watch carefully.

Your thoughts?  And don’t worry, as far as I know, the “Thought Police” don’t exist.  Yet.


About kendra75

Freelance journalist, researcher, history buff and full time student.

Posted on February 4, 2012, in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. My view on this is (Oddly, as an IT executive, and someone who feels that the government is already too intrusive on my privacy) that I’m perfectly fine with it.


    If you publish – regardless of the media – you are placing your words, views and content in the public domain. By doing so, you’ve already exercised your right to free speech; having said that, though, the right to free speech is NOT the same as being able to speak without consequence. (See the old “FIRE! FIRE” in a movie theater argument for reference.)

    IF the government uses an application to “tag” or otherwise draw it’s attention to various public statements, that’s no different than Googling it, or even having our friends here at FB “tune” what you see based on what you look at.

    WHAT the government does AFTER is what matters – if they take someone to court for criticizing public policy, for example, or any other kind of retaliatory/oppressive tactics, then yeah – I have a BIG problem with that.

    As I said, the freedom to speak is most emphatically not the same as immunity from the consequences of what we say.

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