FBI Wants Tech to Track Social Media for Criminals and Terrorists Before They Act

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Proposals from interested vendors are due later this month.

The Federal Bureau of Investigations aims to acquire access to a “social media early alerting tool” that will help insiders proactively and reactively monitor how terrorist groups, foreign intelligence services, criminal organizations and other domestic threats use networking platforms to further their illegal efforts, according to a request for proposal amended this week. 

“With increased use of social media platforms by subjects of current FBI investigations and individuals that pose a threat to the United States, it is critical to obtain a service which will allow the FBI to identify relevant information from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and other Social media platforms in a timely fashion,” the agency said in the RFP. “Consequently, the FBI needs near real-time access to a full range of social media exchanges in order to obtain the most current information available in furtherance of its law enforcement and intelligence missions.”

Though the request was initially released on July 8, the FBI amended it this week to extend the relevant dates: The agency’s answers to vendors moved from July 25 to Aug. 7, and the proposal due date shifted from Aug. 8 to Aug. 27. Though the original proposal listed the anticipated award date as Aug. 30, it could be pushed back due to these changes. 

Still, the proposal comes at a time when society is growing accustomed to the painful reality of the weaponization of social media outlets to cause harm. Earlier this year, a mass shooter in New Zealand opened fire at two mosques killing 50 people and injuring many more—he posted a 74-page manifesto and images of his weapons online ahead of the attack and livestreamed the shooting directly on Facebook Live. And the shooter who killed three people at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California Sunday also previously posted online about an 1890 racist manifesto, which has been deemed a “staple among neo-Nazis and white supremacists on extremist sites.”

“It is an acknowledged fact that virtually every incident and subject of FBI investigative interest has a presence online,” the bureau said in the project’s statement of objectives. “The mission critical exploitation of social media enables the Bureau to proactively detect, disrupt, and investigate an ever growing diverse range of threats.”

The FBI ultimately wants an interactive tool that can be accessed by all headquarters division and field office personnel via web browsers and through multiple devices. Interested vendors should have the capabilities to offer the agency the ability to set filters around the specific content they see, send immediate and custom alerts and notifications around “mission-relevant” incidents, have broad international reach and a strong language translation capability and allow for real-time geolocation-based monitoring that can be refined as events develop. 

And when it comes to specific persons-of-interest and suspects already involved in open investigations, the bureau wants the ability to obtain their full-scope social media profiles from across the various platforms and insights into their affiliations with various groups across the world wide web.

“Items of interest in this context are social networks, user IDs, emails, IP addresses and telephone numbers, along with likely additional account with similar IDs or aliases,” the agency said. 

The firm-fixed-price contract will be awarded on a best-value basis and will include one base year and four one-year option periods.