FBI Plans to Monitor Social Media May Spark Privacy Issues

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A new initiative to pull data from social media platforms may clash with policies prohibiting the use of information for mass surveillance.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation wants to intensify its monitoring of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media platforms to detect potential threats. But its plans may collide with privacy policies and, potentially, Facebook’s ability to comply with its recent $5 billion settlement with the FTC.

FBI officials are soliciting vendor proposals for a contract that would gather “vast quantities” of publicly available data from social media sites including Facebook and Twitter, The Wall Street Journal reports. While vendors would not be able to access direct messages or other private content, they would collect data including names, user IDs, and photos, which could paint an accurate picture of individuals’ lives when merged with external data and enable a third party to track them online.

Facebook, which works with law enforcement when issued a warrant or subpoena for user information, also has a ban on the use of its data for surveillance and prohibits law enforcement from analyzing data without users’ permission. Similarly, Twitter does not allow use of its data for surveillance purposes. The FBI, under pressure to address waves of violence across the country, believes it can collect data and learn about potential threats without breaching privacy compliance requirements.

These plans may also conflict with Facebook’s ability to comply with its privacy settlement with the Federal Trade Commission, which mandates the social media giant maintain a data security program. As part of this, Facebook must stop the misuse of publicly available data, the type of information the FBI wants to scan.

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