In early July, the FBI posted a solicitation notice for a “Social Media Alerting Subscription,” which would “acquire the services of a company to proactively identify and reactively monitor threats to the United States and its interests through a means of online sources.” The request singles out Twitter, Facebook, Instagram “and other social media platforms” for snooping.
Essentially, the FBI is looking for companies to build a tool to comb through “lawfully access[ed]” social media posts and pinpoint possible threats ahead of time. Think of it like a meme-illiterate Facebook-stalking precog from Minority Report.
Although the notice was posted well before this month’s mass shootings, it is easy to see how this system could empower the Red Flag law ideas that have since gained prominence. This kind of “proactive identification” could allow law enforcement to target and even disenfranchise social media users whose posts may have been merely misinterpreted. So let’s call this the Red Flag tool for short.
The FBI’s Red Flag tool statement of objectives provides a glimpse into the agency’s sprawling “social media exploitation” efforts. There are “operations centers and watch floors,” which monitor news and events to create reports for the relevant FBI team. These spur the activation of “fusion centers,” tactical teams which use “early notification, accurate geo-locations, and the mobility” of social media data to issue their own reports. There are also FBI agents in the field, “legal attaches” whose jobs would be much easier with a translation-enabled Red Flag tool. And last are the “command posts,” teams of “power users” assigned to monitor specific large events or theaters of operations.
To be clear, the proposed tool does not seek to access private messages or other hidden data. Rather, it would scrape and rationalize publicly accessible posts. This could be fortuitously combined with other FBI data to build detailed, but possibly inaccurate, portraits of suspected ne’er-do-wells.’
Right now, the Second Amendment is under assault from so many different directions it’s difficult to keep up. It feels like everyone wants to take yet another piece of our right to keep and bear arms.
One of the most supported measures right now are red flag laws. The idea is that you can somehow identify problems early and disarm those individuals before they can kill.
The idea is bogus, but it’s certainly popular enough that there’s a good chance such a law will pass at the federal level.
However, a move by the federal government should raise even more alarm bells.
by Tom Knighton