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DHS Wants Better Social Media Screening Technology

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The Department of Homeland Security wants businesses to present their cutting-edge social media analytics services next month -- especially technology that could enhance criminal investigations, traveler screenings and situational awareness.  

In a new request for information, DHS said it is looking for open source analytics tools that can make internal operations more efficient and reduce costs through "advanced analytic automation,” across the department, all while using “privacy, civil rights and civil liberties-protecting analytic methods.”

Respondents have until Feb. 9 to submit descriptions of their analytics capabilities, including geospatial processing, foreign and spoken language processing, and keyword, image and video analysis, among other elements.

DHS plans to ask 30 “exemplars of social media analytics capabilities in the market place” to present technology that could help analysts find patterns “in the context of homeland security investigative, screening and/or homeland security mission related situation awareness missions.”

Those groups will be asked to present on Feb. 26, the RFI said.

The solicitation also asked respondents to describe the way they “protect the privacy, civil rights and civil liberties of individuals involved in open source and social media communications,” including factors such as data removal methods, “role based access to information, user audit, system logging, policy enforcing mechanisms, encryption, etc.”

The announcement comes weeks after federal social media screening policies came under fire, especially in light of the San Bernardino shootings, when it was widely reported that one of the shooters had posted public pro-ISIS messages on Facebook. (Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey subsequently said those were private, direct communications.)

DHS policies in particular were criticized last month when Congress blasted the department for not examining immigrants' social media accounts closely and routinely when granting visas, The Hill reported.

DHS officials said they do occasionally look at social media accounts, according to The Hill. But a DHS memo obtained by MSNBC last month found that the department had rejected a policy to screen foreign visa applicants’ social media accounts in 2011, after a year of revisions. 

According to a spokesperson, DHS does not comment on open solicitations and declined Nextgov's request for comment. 

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