Obama mining Facebook, Twitter to predict crimes. Controversial program may offer insight into Verizon scandal
Posted on June 7, 2013 at 12:57 AM EST
By Aaron Klein
Clues to the federal governmentâs reason for collecting the telephone records of millions of Verizon customers may be found in a recently unearthed 2010 project seeking to predict criminal activity using vast quantities of data on citizens mined from social network websites such as Facebook and Twitter.
In February,Â the Sydney Morning Herald reportedÂ the Massachusetts-based multinational corporation, Raytheon â the worldâs fifth largest defense contractor â had developed a âGoogle for Spiesâ operation.
Herald reporter Ryan Gallagher wrote that Raytheon had âsecretly developed software capable of tracking peopleâs movements and predicting future behavior by mining data from social networking websitesâ like Facebook, Twitter, and Foursquare.
The software is called RIOT, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology.
Raytheon told the Herald it has not sold RIOT to any clients but admitted that, in 2010, it had shared the programâs software technology with the U.S. government as part of a âjoint research and development effort âŠ to help build a national security system capable of analyzing âtrillions of entitiesâ from cyberspace.â
In April, RIOT was reportedly showcased at a U.S. government and industry national security conference for secretive, classified innovations, where it was listed under the category âbig data â analytics, algorithms.â
Jay Stanley, senior policy analyst for the ACLU Speech, Privacy and Technology Project, argued that major ethical dilemmas ensue although RIOT apparently utilizes only publicly available information from companies like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
âThe government has no business rooting around peopleâs social network postings â even those that are voluntarily publicly posted â unless it has specific, individualized suspicion that person is involved in wrongdoing,âÂ Stanley wrote on the ACLU blog.
Stanley wrote that among the many problems with government large-scale analytics of social network information âis the prospect that government agencies will blunderingly use these techniques to tag, target and watchlist people coughed up by programs such as RIOT, or to target them for further invasions of privacy based on incorrect inferences.â
âThe chilling effects of such activities,â he concluded, âwhile perhaps gradual, would be tremendous.â
Ginger McCall, attorney and director of the Electronic Privacy Information Centerâs Open Government program,Â told NBC in February, âThis sort of software allows the government to surveil everyone.
âIt scoops up a bunch of information about totally innocent people. There seems to be no legitimate reason to get this, other than that they can.â
As for RIOTâs ability to help catch terrorists, McCall called it âa lot of white noise.â
The London Guardian further obtained a four-minute video that shows how the RIOT software uses photographs on social networks. The images, sometimes containing latitude and longitude details, are âautomatically embedded by smartphones within so-called âexif header data.â
RIOT pulls out this information, analyzing not only the photographs posted by individuals, but also the location where these images were taken,â the Guardian reported.
Such sweeping data collection and analysis to predict future activity may further explain some of what the government is doing with the phone records of millions of Verizon customers.
In March 2006, the New York Times first reported the National Security Agency was utilizing phone records to search for patterns.
âIn the increasingly popular language of network theory, individuals are ânodes,â and relationships and interactions form the âlinksâ binding them together; by mapping those connections, network scientists try to expose patterns that might not otherwise be apparent,â reported the Times.
In February 2006, more than a year after Obama was sworn as a U.S. senator, it was revealed the âsupposedly defunctâ Total Information Awareness data-mining and profiling program had been acquired by the NSA.
The Total Information Awareness program was first announced in 2002 as an early effort to mine large volumes of data for hidden connections.
With additional research by Brenda J. Elliott