The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency has bought a stake in a company that monitors social media as part of an ongoing clandestine effort by the agency to aggregate content from public sources, Wired is reporting.
The CIA has invested in Visible Technologies, a company that produces technology for search engine marketing for social media. The CIA’s interest in its technology is obvious–the agency needs to keep pace with the latest communications technology.
Over 70 percent of Facebook’s users are located outside of the United States, in over 180 countries. “There are more than 200 non-U.S., non-English-language microblogging Twitter-clone sites today. If the intelligence community ignored that tsunami of real-time information, we’d call them incompetent,” Lewis Shepherd, the former senior technology officer at the Defense Intelligence Agency, told Wired.
The advent of cloud computing raises more concern, because services store data among data centers all around the world. I recently wrote a detailed report about how laws that safeguard your privacy are not the same in every country. If messages pass through a server overseas, does that give the CIA the right to browse the content even if a user is a U.S. citizen?
The CIA is barred by law from domestic spying in the United States, but in the past, the agency has employed creative ways to bypass the law, to hide documents from Congressional review, and to set up an illegal dragnet of domestic communications services. In the last case, Congress gave telecommunications companies immunity from prosecution after it allegedly learned about the spying.
Of course, most folks’ Tweets are public, and even if you don’t share everything with the entire world on Facebook, it’s less private than a phone conversation. Does the notion of the government monitoring social network activity make you nervous?