The Federal Bureau of Investigation is soliciting technology firms to build a tool that can monitor social media for threats.
The agency posted a request for proposals on July 8 claiming it wants a “social media early alerting tool,” that will help it track the use of the platforms by terrorists, criminal organizations, and foreign agencies.
“With increased use of social media platforms by subjects of current FBI investigations and individuals that pose a threat to the United States, it is critical to obtain a service which will allow the FBI to identify relevant information from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other social media platforms in a timely fashion,” the request reads. “Consequently, the FBI needs near real-time access to a full range of social media exchanges in order to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions.”
The solicitation was first reported on by Defense One. The documents released by the FBI show that the agency plans to have a tool that can be accessed from all FBI headquarters and field offices, or through FBI-issued mobile devices.
The tool would allow FBI agents to access people’s email addresses, phone numbers IP addresses, user IDs, and associated accounts. It would also allow agents to create filters and custom alerts, so they can receive notifications when “mission-relevant” activity happens on social media.
During a recent speech at the International Conference on Cyber Security—a couple of weeks after the request was posted—Attorney General William Barr told tech companies that they must allow law enforcement to gain access to encrypted messages of criminals and suspected criminals. Later at the same conference, FBI director Christopher Wray said he strongly agreed with Barr on this matter.
In the wake of many recent acts of terrorism and mass shootings, the suspects’ social media activity, which sometimes includes online manifestos, have been assessed by law enforcement and the greater public. So it’s no surprise that there is growing interest within government agencies to track this activity in real-time but one of the biggest questions is whether social media companies will offer their help in the FBI’s mission to figuratively plant the biggest wiretap of all time. We’ve reached out to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to ask for comment and we’ll update this post when we receive a reply.
The FBI’s social media tool solicitation claims the service must ensure “all privacy and civil liberties compliance requirements are met,” but there’s no doubt this push will further erode privacy and put anyone with a social media account at greater risk of data breaches.
Update: A Twitter spokesperson told Gizmodo that the company works with law enforcement on their investigations, but does prohibits the application programming interface from being used for surveillance. “We prohibit developers using the Public APIs and Gnip data products from allowing law enforcement—or any other entity—to use Twitter data for surveillance purposes. Period,” the spokesperson said. “And if developers violate our policies, we will take appropriate action, which can include suspension and termination of access to Twitter’s Public APIs and data products.”