On the subject of government spying, it seems that when we take a step forward, we take another step back. The National Applications Office, and its program of military satellite spying against Americans, is reported to be on the verge of a shutdown. On the other hand electronic surveillance, as enabled through the Patriot Act and FISA Amendments Act, may be taking a big step forward.
I take note of an earmark inserted into a military appropriations bill. The earmark declaration, by its author, U.S. Representative Rob Bishop, reads as follows:
* Project Title: Optimizing Natural Language Processing of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT)
* Amount: $1.5 million
* Requesting Member: ROB BISHOP (UT)
* Bill Number: H.R. 2647
* Account: Research and Development, Army
* Address of Requesting Entity: Attensity, Inc., 90 South 400 West, Suite 600, Salt Lake City, Utah 84101
* Matching Funds: None
* Detailed Spending Plan: Not applicable
* Description and Justification of Funding: Project, in conjunction with the University of New York at Buffalo, would fund research and development of an “all-source” fusion tool for collecting open-source data from the web, blogs, social networking sites, and RRS feeds, to provide more effective defense intelligence analysis and improving military decision making in asymmetric warfare situations.
This project, for the military, would create a tool capable of collecting information from a variety of sources on the Internet for the purpose of “defense intelligence analysis”. I can’t say for sure exactly how that would work, of course, given that the tool hasn’t been developed yet. I can’t even say that how the money would be spent, as Representative Bishop seems to think that there’s no need for any detailed spending plan when it comes to military projects of this sort.
What this earmark demonstrates is that the military intends to scan web sites as part of its spying operations. Maybe the system will be set to scan only web sites created and maintained outside of the United States, but I doubt it. For one thing, the way that the Internet works doesn’t make things that simple. For another thing, the military has already been caught engaging in electronic and direct human surveillance of peaceful, law-abiding organizations here in the United States. Go back to 2002, and you may remember the military’s Total Information Awareness project, which sought to gather information from multiple sources, including the Internet, in order to track Americans and try to predict criminal behavior before it took place.
Given its history of spying on the American people, I don’t think that the military deserves the benefit of the doubt on this project. Nor does it deserve funding for the OSINT project.