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Is the CIA following you on Twitter and Facebook?

And by the CIA we don’t mean the Civil Aviation Authority. I do wonder where web user’s priorities lie sometimes, we go insane over the Google retaining our search data and Facebook hanging on to profile data for 24 hours, but why aren’t we concerned about what the U.S government is doing with your social profiles?

This year has seen;

o The CIA investing in ‘Social media monitoring giant Visible Technologies

o The UK government retaining our emails, IP’s and telephone numbers for 12 months

o Government spies to monitor your tweets

o Behavioural ad firm Phorm does deal with BT, Virgin Media and Carphone Warehouse to build an in deep profile on user habits illegally

CIA recruits
CIA recruits

October has been a big month for ‘Big Brother’, Visible Technologies are one of the biggest social media monitoring companies in the world partnered with the CIA’s little known investment arm into new technologies, In-Q-Tel.

Brad Pitt in Burn after reading
Brad Pitt in Burn after reading

Now this might seam like a million miles away from your life, after all, you only log into Facebook to stalk your ex, buy a couple of Wii games on Amazon, send out the odd client email or find a petrol station on the M1 via your iphone.

Well let’s look at what In-Q-Tel actually does for the CIA;

In-Q-Tel was launched as a private arm of the CIA back in 1999, its aim then was to find any movers and shakers in the ‘new technologies market’ and buy them up for the CIA. In-Q-Tel described it mission as “partnering with companies developing cutting edge technologies that serves national security interests of the United States”.  It reminds me of ‘Massive Dynamic’ from the series Fringe.

I think the interesting part of this is the phrase “that serve the national security interests of the United States”

Pig Brother is watching you
Pig Brother is watching you

National security is a U.S civics term for “the condition of the nation, in terms of threats, especially threats from outside. One of the major jobs of the federal government is to ensure the security of the nation” according to Wikipedia

So where exactly is a company like Visible Technologies looking for this fiendish intelligence?

“Visible crawls over half a million web 2.0 sites a day, scraping more than a million posts and conversations taking place on blogs, online forums, Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and Amazon. (It doesn’t touch closed social networks, like Facebook, at the moment.) Customers get customized, real-time feeds of what’s being said on these sites, based on a series of keywords.” Said Wired magazine.

visibletechnologis - Tru Pulse social media reporting
visibletechnologis - Tru Pulse social media reporting

Then Visible “scores” each post, labelling it as positive or negative, mixed or neutral. It examines how influential a conversation or an author is. (Trying to determine who really matters,” as Cahill puts it.) Finally, Visible gives users a chance to tag posts, forward them to colleagues and allow them to response through a web interface.

True pulse data capture
True pulse data capture

Do we really ever want to meet Stacy? i don't

visibletechnologies tru pulse social media tracking
visibletechnologies tru pulse social media tracking

It’s a little like ‘evil’ social media or what the CIA calls open source intelligence.

Oh yes and about that Facebook data, can you imagine an argument between Mark Zuckerberg, one of the Facebook founders and the CIA. “No, I won’t allow it MR CIA man these people depend on me, I’ve seen men in Black, I know what you want, and you can’t have it” … “your going to throw me in a Turkish Jail, hey have it. Its just pictures of pissed people and charities anyhow”

Mark zuckerberg facebook
Mark zuckerberg facebook

In an interview Steven Aftergood of the Federation of American Scientists said “Intelligence agencies or employees might be tempted to use the tools at their disposal to compile information on political figures, critics, journalists or others, and to exploit such information for political advantage”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence director Doug Naquin said “we’re looking now at YouTube, which carries some unique and honest-to-goodness intelligence…. We have groups looking at what they call ‘citizens media’: people taking pictures with their cell phones and posting them on the internet. Then there’s social media, phenomena like MySpace and blogs.”

Shying away from this grown mans use of the words honest-to-goodness, it does seam kind of scary, after all out mobile phones are GPS traceable, they know if we influence large communities, they notice that we put LOL next to the pissed student weeing on a war memorial, I do wonder just how much has to happen or how many trigger words have to be said on Twitter or on your blog before a big Hummer pulls up and drags you in leaving only your left shoe and two by one get one free cans of beans.

Meet the parents
Meet the parents

It does make sense of course that social media has made the government nervous, after all about a third of the U.S population are now on Facebook, that’s around 90 million of them. Of course Facebook have 300 million users worldwide and that is what the intelligence agencies want.

Lewis Shepherd the former senior technology officer at the Defence Intelligence Agency (now working for Microsoft) says of the CIA interest in social media, “Facebook says that more than 70 percent of its users are outside the U.S., in more than 180 countries. There are more than 200 non-U.S., non-English-language microblogging Twitter-clone sites today. If the intelligence community ignored that tsunami of real-time information, we’d call them incompetent.”

So if that’s happening in the U.S, which of course affects us here. What’s happening on old Blightys shores, well recently the U.K government has said that it will be storing all U.K web data for a year in a new ‘super data base’ costing around £12 billion (almost 1 months salary for a trader at Goldman Sacs) and it’ll be safe too, so long as someone doesn’t leave all your data on a USB storage device on the number 19 bus. It will be handled by GCHQ, the government’s eavesdropping centre and will lead to live monitoring and collection of personal data from quite possibly BT and Vodafone. Officials claim live monitoring is necessary to fight terrorism and crime

Although the new retention powers don’t extend to saving the content of emails or phone calls, it does cover the storing of your IP addresses, dates, times and user telephone numbers. A home office spokesman said "It is the Government's priority to protect public safety and national security.”

There is that word again national security, what about personal security?

Phil Booth of the civil rights campaign group, NOID, said: "Inch by inch, the Government's plans to map and monitor everyone's communications are creeping into place. Today it's retention of data; soon it'll be a giant database to suck it all up. And unless we speak out and stop this, what used to be private – details of your relationships and personal interests – will end up in the ever-widening control of the stalker state."

The Timesonline said “Critics question whether such a vast system can be kept secure. A total of 57 billion text messages were sent in the UK last year - 1,800 every second.”

Ask yourself this question? Do you really know that one of your Facebook friends, blog subscribers, Twitter friends, Digg fans, Flickr friends or YouTube buddies aren’t actually watching your every move?

Be vigilant people of the web

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/uk/article4882600.ece

http://www.iqt.org/

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/10/exclusive-us-spies-buy-stake-in-twitter-blog-monitoring-firm/

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/personal-web-data-to-be-stored-for-a-year-1662237.html

http://www.visibletechnologies.com/press/pr_20091019.html

http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2009/10/exclusive-us-spies-buy-stake-in-twitter-blog-monitoring-firm/

http://www.jbs.org/privacy-internet-freedom-blog/5516-government-spies-to-monitor-tweets-blogs

http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2009/jun/11/phorm-internet-advertising


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