The latest innovation in military intelligence is as simple as checking your Facebook page or Twitter feed. According to a new report from Defense One, the military is now contracting with several outside firms to conduct data surveillance on social media content. "They look at tweets, they look at Facebook posts as well, and they analyze those for sentiment," says Patrick Hunter, author and technology writer for Defense One. "Really what they're trying to do is figure out, through all of these different projects they fund, how you can anticipate incidents of geopolitical importance." One of the private firms involved in this is Austin-based SnapTrends.
The idea behind this new effort is that it is easier to just read somebody's online postings to find out if they're going to do something dangerous, rather than use old-school spy methods to gain the same information. After all, Facebook and Twitter users agree at sign up that their postings will go to a public web page. All of these "open-source" monitors are legal since they simply use information available on public web pages. Hunter says it should make people more aware of what they post on social media. "When we supply this information to these (social media) networks, we do it in really private way...it feels like something we do by ourselves, but it's not," he tells KTRH. "It's something we're actually doing in full view of everybody else."
That doesn't necessarily mean that the military is reading every random post or looking at every picture on people's social media accounts. Most of this monitoring is of international subjects and suspected terrorists. "It is to understand how what people post on Twitter and Facebook can anticipate incidents that (the military) wants to be ready to respond to," says Hunter.