Tuesday, April 19, 2016

The CIA Gets on Twitter: Employing Silicon Valley for Social Media Observation

The CIA is making moves to become more computer savvy. Or at least that’s what been gathered by a report from The Intercept, a well-known news station. The CIA’s venture capital firm in Silicon Valley, In-Q-Tel, is pursuing contracts with four different companies who specialize in social media collection and observation. Given the prodigious affluence ISIS has gained through using Twitter and Facebook as mediums of recruitment and communication, the CIA justifiably believes this is the next front to combat them.

The four firms revealed in dealing with In-Q-Tel are Dataminr, Geofeedia, PATHAR, and TransVoyant. Each of these demonstrates a unique ability to survey a particular area and register whether comments are negative, positive, or neutral in nature. A particularly delightful feature of TransVoyant is that it monitors the web for decision-makers. Translation: if someone important being tracked tweets something threatening and if a wave of his/her followers tweet something similar, the software alerts the user. This is supposed to track gang activity and threats all through the web. Not to be outdone, Geofeedia released a feature that searches for dangerous objects, like a knife or RPG, in pictures and videos.

Now these software capabilities are not new, and both law enforcement and intelligence agencies have been sifting through different social media collection software over the last few years trying to find the perfect fit.

But will the CIA’s war on the web be successful with these additions? ISIS proved its elusiveness and technological acumen even when Anonymous attempted to take down all its Twitter and Facebook accounts. They even released a newsletter designed for wannabe jihadists hackers in Kybernetiq. Surprisingly, they have withstood the cyber-attacks attempted on all sides, and the major downside of many of these software products is that the user’s settings have to be on public to even obtain the information.

Even so, privacy advocates find issue with these programs. They believe that monitoring for particular general aspects may place innocent people within those “terror caches” and inevitably make their lives more difficult. For examples, someone who protests against American foreign involvement, but does so peacefully, could easily wind up in a search for militant sovereign citizens.
While this is the right move by the CIA, the major limitations are the privacy and encryption settings within these apps. Following the Apple vs. FBI standoff, companies are assuredly attempting to bolster security measures on their products. ISIS will continue to use these to communicate, and the CIA will continue to try and catch up with their own technological firms. The game goes on…


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