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FBI Wants Companies to Help Spy on Facebook and Twitter Users

By Christopher Maag

The FBI is asking tech companies to help it monitor people who use Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media. In a request for information posted on its website in mid-January, the bureau asks for help creating software that would monitor social media websites for potential threats, and immediately report them back to the bureau’s Strategic Information and Operations Center.

“The application must have the ability to rapidly assemble critical open source information and intelligence that will allow SIOC to quickly vet, identify, and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats,”according to the request.

The goal is to create a system that automatically scrapes social networking sites, and allows FBI agents to perform searches, looking for “possible emerging threats to National Security, key government personnel or any criminal activity” that falls under the FBI’s jurisdiction.

Plans to increase the government’s surveillance of the Internet quickly gained the attention of privacy organizations and members of Congress. After filing a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act, the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) uncovered documents proving that the Department of Homeland Security already is operating a surveillance program similar to the one the FBI has in mind.

The group uncovered evidence that the project tracks media stories that “reflect adversely” on the department. One report generated by the program summarizes blogs and comments on social networking sites criticizing the government’s plan to bring Guantanamo detainees to American prisons,according to the group’s summary.

EPIC has filed a lawsuit against the department over the practice.

Meanwhile, in Congress, the Committee on Homeland Security’s Subcommittee on Counterterrorism and Intelligenceplanned to hold a hearingthis week to ask representatives of the Homeland Security department about its social media surveillance program.

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