Monday, September 30, 2013

It's useful to pass on information without making specific social connections public; law enforcement, intelligence expand ability to dig deeper into social media posts, to solve old cases and intervene before terror attacks

One advantage (to me) of public blogs and flat websites is that others can check what is “going on” in “my world” without having to be formally recorded (and identified to the public) as my “friend” or “follower”.   People of my generation are not as apt to want to publish the natures of our connections with specific other persons, as younger people seem to be.  We don’t think that information sharing or other interaction always needs to be recorded in the world of “Likeonomics”.

The media has just reported that the NSA has been watching social networking sites of US citizens.  That shouldn’t be a surprise, as the social graph itself is public information. The link is here. It may be more of an issue when the NSA looks at posts whitelisted to specific users (like listserver posts), but a lot of the time the most interesting stuff is in plain sight, for everyone to see by for no one to understand. 

There’s been a lot of reporting on how law enforcement can sift social media for evidence of crimes.  That is no surprise.  But what may be at issue is whether law enforcement, that is, police departments, the FBI, and even the intelligence community, know how to read between the lines in social media posts the way some users (even me) would.  There is a case in point.  In August 2008, there was a murder of a defense worker in Kanika Powell in Maryland between Baltimore and Washington.   It remains unsolved as far as I know.  I mentioned this case and a few others on a movie review yesterday (on my Movies blog) of “Blue Caprice”.   But I sleuthed around and in early September 2008 and found some very bizarre materials regarding the person and the case on both MySpace and Blogger.  I won’t go into details, but I wonder if law enforcement at the time really understood the significance of various issues with web services and social media at the time, in relation to content that it might find with forensics available then.   This happened before Facebook, Google+, and Twitter became as important as they are today, and “public mode” blog posting was a larger portion of what gets put up.  Technology for cyberinvestigation has improved substantially since 2008 and some of these old cases should be studied again.  It is possible that clues to a future major terror incident will show up in social media.  Even as this is so, we have to bear in mind possible overreaction, as with the Justin Carter case in Texas (my Internet Safety blog, July 3, 2013).   

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