A contract proposal from the Defense Department’s research arm DARPA revealed the Pentagon is looking to develop computer algorithms which would mine data from social media websites and use it to track and analyze the behavior of various criminal and terrorist groups (h/t Mashable). In order to understand group dynamics and “forecast trends”, the DOD hopes to understand how a group evolves, interacts, recruits, influences other groups and affect the opinions of individuals and communities.
In phase 1, DARPA wants a system developed which would first track groups and their state changes and research “key indicators” of interactions. In phase 2, the system developed would learn the “dynamics of group behavior and inter- and intra-group interactions in an unsupervised manner,” then achieve a 90% accuracy rate in detecting state changes in 1,000 groups with a combined total of more than a million members with 100,000 postings a day. Phase 3, prototype development, would:
“be of great interest to industrial espionage prevention specialists, law enforcement, market analysts, and polling organizations. This capability would be applicable to a broad range of tactical as well as strategic military operations.”
While only in the proposal phase, such desires from the military should send chills down the spine of anyone interested in protecting civil liberties. The DOD might purport to be interested in using such technology for the purposes of understanding “terrorist” or “criminal” groups, we’ve already seen the increased criminalization of dissent. Many American law enforcement agencies have had their eyes and ears on activist groups that use Twitter, Facebook and other social media outlets, cell phone carriers and other forms of electronic communication as a way of spreading ideas and organizing protests. Tracking and predicting group behavior in the hands of any government or military entity is just another tool in an ever increasing armory of weapons against dissenters.