January 7, 2016 3:22 pm
Updated: January 7, 2016 11:00 pm

Department of National Defence seeks help monitoring social media

AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez, File)
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The Department of National Defense is turning its gaze to social media sites like Twitter and YouTube, asking for the private sector’s help to better monitor online activity in the years to come.

In a call for tender issued on Thursday, the department outlined its requirement for “access to online digital media monitoring, filtering, and analysis … that incorporates real-time and historical data source(s) from all major social media platforms.”

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In layman’s terms, DND wants access to technology that will help it sort through the endless streams of data pouring out of sites like Twitter (dubbed a “fire hose” in the documents), Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, Flickr, blogs, and even news sites. The main goal, as outlined in the call for tender documents, seems to be increased and more efficient monitoring of online activity in “non-democratic states.”

“Populations in non-democratic states will increasingly employ social media tools in pursuit of greater freedom,” the documents read. “However, restrictive governments are and will continue to develop more nuanced, insidious and effective mechanisms for exploiting social media while maintaining already pervasive control over traditional media sources.”

The department says that monitoring Twitter in particular could be helpful in understanding populations and governments in “countries of interest,” particularly if they are veering toward instability.

Social media can also help to monitor events as they unfold, the document notes, as well as track “key influencers,” monitor the “sentiments of local populations,” and even “help to geo-locate people of interest.”

“Given the reactive and long-term nature of DND intelligence operations, access to this information is essential to maintaining situational awareness and achieving our global mandate.”

The successful bidder would need to ensure intelligence analysts “have adequate yet protected access” to the glut of publicly available information online — meaning the people and organizations they’re watching should not necessarily be aware of their gaze.

“Social media intelligence products are relatively new but are designed to assist military leaders and decision-makers in strategic planning,” the call for tender explains.

Global News contacted Captain Travis Smyth at the Department of National Defence on Thursday to find out more about the program.

Smyth said a program like this has the potential to acquire information that is fundamental to the success of the Department of National Defence and the Canadian Armed Forces.

“Social media monitoring and analysis for the purpose of defence intelligence collection may provide new and unique information of intelligence value, that can be used to corroborate, refute or substantiate existing information from other collection sources,” Smyth said. “It will also allow Canadian Forces Intelligence Command to adapt to developing social media technologies with the safety and security of Canadians in mind.”

Smyth said the platform will not be used to monitor Canadians.

“Canadian Forces Intelligence Command does not have a mandate to monitor the activity of Canadians. We intend to perform social media monitoring, filtering and analysis anywhere in the world that Canadian Armed Forces members are deployed or may potentially deploy in the future.”

Spy agencies around the world have used similar social media monitoring in recent years, especially in response to increasing propaganda materials spread online by groups like the so-called Islamic State.

The terms of the contract with a future private-sector supplier state that the Canadian Forces requires:

  • Training for up to 40 members in the use of the platform.
  • Canadian Armed Forces access via dedicated secure server.
  • In-house platform development and support for Canadian Armed Forces needs.
  • Continuous access to social data via a data provider in a manner not directly attributable to DND.

 

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