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US spies invest in internet monitoring technology

October 20, 2009

American spies are investing in technology designed to monitor websites including blogs, Twitter, YouTube and even reading habits on Amazon.

By Toby Harnden in Washington
Published: 6:53PM BST 20 Oct 2009

American spies are investing in technology designed to monitor the internet

American spies are investing in technology designed to monitor the internet

They say social media websites offer a powerful opportunity for “open source” intelligence – publicly available data that can be mined for information.

In an attempt to sift through the blizzard of information, the investment arm of the CIA, In-Q-Tel, has invested in a software firm that monitors social media.

Terrorist networks are increasingly using the internet as it allows people to communicate anonymously and across borders. A number of terrorist plots have involved the use of chat rooms for recruiting, discussion or the passing of messages.

Visible Technologies examines more than half a million websites a day, looking through more than a million posts and interactions happening on blogs, in online forums and on popular social media sites such as Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Amazon.

The company’s customers, who include Microsoft, Hormel Foods and Xerox, receive real-time data on what’s being said on these sites, based on a number of predetermined key words.

A “score” is then assigned to each item, identifying it as positive, negative, mixed or neutral. The customer can then forward items to others, enabling them to respond.

For instance, this enables Microsoft to gauge how its Windows 7 launch is being received or Hormel, which makes Spam luncheon meat, to tracks the campaigns of animal rights activists against the company.

“Anything that is out in the open is fair game for collection,” said Steven Aftergood, of the Federation of American Scientists.

He added, however, that it would be “problematic” if information was used for unauthorised domestic investigations.

“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. That is not permissible even if all of the information in question is technically ‘open source.’”

In-Q-Tel was set up by the US government in 1999 to identify and work with “companies developing cutting-edge technologies to help deliver these solutions to the Central Intelligence Agency”.

Source: Telegraph/UK

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