The agency is looking for ideas for developing a social media application that can search for significant data from social networking activity to be used for intelligence purposes, according to a request for information (RFI) posted on FedBizOpps.gov.
The FBI is looking for a "geospatial alert and analysis mapping application" that will allow its Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) to "quickly vet, identify and geo-locate breaking events, incidents and emerging threats," according to the RFI.
[ How does data mining affect user privacy? See Global CIO: Data Mining Faces The Supreme Court Test. ]
The agency wants the tool to be in the form of a "secure, lightweight web application portal, using mashup technology," and plans to use it to share information with intelligence partners to coordinate and synchronize awareness of events across operations, it said.
Moreover, the application must be "infinitely flexible" to adapt to changing threats, and those using it must have access to a common operating dashboard from which they can view both unclassified open-source information feeds and use tools to analyze social media during a crisis as it happens.
Other features the FBI hopes its data-mining tool will have include the ability to automatically "search and scrape" social-networking and open-source news websites for information about breaking world events. It also wants to give users of the tool the ability to do relevant keyword searches on sites such as Facebook, CNN, Fox News, and other popular information outlets on the Internet.
The FBI is certainly not the first federal agency to recognize the value in information being shared via social media.
Other federal agencies--including the CIA, Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and even the research agency for federal intelligence efforts, the Intelligence Advanced Research Projects Agency (IARPA)--also are interested in mining the Web for picking up clues about public opinion or world events for use in their respective missions.
In addition to its own aim to build a data-mining tool, the FBI also will likely benefit from the fruits of IARPA’s research efforts in this area. IARPA is seeking to create technology that will continuously analyze and mine data from websites, blogs, social media, and other public information to help it better forecast global events.
In the meantime, In-Q-Tel, the investment firm established by the CIA to support U.S. intelligence agencies, has invested in a startup called Visible Technologies that monitors social media content on the Web so agencies can watch and analyze public opinion on the Web as revealed through social networks.
The DHS, too, has said it monitors Twitter, Facebook, and other popular websites to help it maintain situational awareness and perform its necessary duties in support of international crises and events such as the earthquake in Haiti.
The right forensic tools in the right hands are just a start. The new Digital Detectives issue of Dark Reading shows you how to better apply the lessons they teach. (Free registration required.)