FBI turns to social media for clues

FBI logoThe FBI in America is going to start quizzing a new witness about crimes - social media. The organisation is asking for new applications to be developed which will, it hopes, enable the prediction of some crimes before they happen. If you're dubious then consider that some of the riots in the UK last year were organised across the social networks - if the police had been aware of the impending trouble it's possible action could have been taken in advance.

A lot of commentators including several quoted in today's Daily Telegraph have raised concerns about civil liberties and perceived freedoms. They are missing a number of points.

Already public

First it has to be stressed that the FBI is asking companies - through a white paper on its website - to find ways of monitoring public social media engagements only. That's stuff that's already out there, which people have voluntarily put into the public domain.

Yes, some people will feel they're being monitored. This is one concern raised by one of the commentators. But this will be automated.

Say I was in the habit of loitering around a local jeweller. Then someone feeds a program into CCTV which doesn't notice me as an individual but which asks whether anyone makes a habit of entering jewellers without buying anything - and then increasing security in the area as a result. In this scenario I'm not actually targeted but security is increased where the data suggests it's a good idea.

This appears to be broadly what the FBI is requesting. The debate will go on - assuming someone has the technical capacity to help.