Last week at Elevated Risk we wrote about a company called Social Intelligence based in California that will monitor Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites on behalf of major corporate clients to help keep their employees from misbehaving on the Internet or becoming liabilities.
More news has surfaced on that subject in recent weeks, but we’ll get there in a moment. First, Social Intelligence CEO Max Drucker sent us an e-mail to say that his company doesn’t so much view itself as a “private eye” the way we described it. That’s a sensitive notion among privacy advocates, he said, and the company is “working very hard” to incorporate feedback from potential critics:
I realize ‘private eye’ is in the vernacular, but the implication is that we are promoting ourselves as cyber sleuths, which we have been very careful not to do.
He added that Social Intelligence searches for comments and material from online profiles that meet criteria established in advance by employers, i.e. his clients. This can protect job applicants from discrimination, he argues, because employers aren’t left to search the web on their own and possibly become influenced by gender or racial factors.
We wrote that Social Intelligence uses an automated process to scan social media content (the company’s website calls it “automated collection”). Drucker said much of the company’s work is still largely manual:
Members of our team review every applicant and manually identify anything that meets the employer criteria. There is clearly technology behind our service and some of our early marketing materials referenced this, but all of our tech is human intervened. The work is far too sensitive to rely on pure automation alone.
Meanwhile, our post identified Social Intelligence as part of a larger movement to use online communications tools for surveillance purposes. We described a similar program launched by the Department of Homeland Security earlier this year to search online sites like Twitter for key terms, including “decapitated,” “militia,” “radicals” and many more.
Social media scrutiny for police cadets, it turns out, is even more intense. People applying to work at law enforcement agencies are being told to sign waivers allowing background investigators to access their Myspace, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube accounts. In some cases, they’re also instructing applicants to turn over e-mail logs, screen names they use and private passwords, according to a story from USA Today:
Privacy advocates say some background investigations, including requests for text message and e-mail logs, may go too far. ‘I’m very uneasy about this,’ says Marc Rotenberg, executive director of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. ‘Where does it all stop?’ … Of ‘particular concern’ is that defense lawyers could use officers’ posts to undercut their credibility in court, according to a memo drafted by lawyers for the National Fraternal Order of Police, the nation’s largest police union.
One candidate was rejected in New Jersey for posting “racy photos of himself with scantily clad women.” The International Association of Chiefs of Police surveyed hundreds of agencies in September and found that over a third were using social media tools for vetting and background investigations.
Continuing on the subject of social media, political activists in Pennsylvania are calling for the state to ban intelligence gathering activities that involve political or religious beliefs. The state’s top homeland security official resigned in October after news surfaced that Pennsylvania paid a private contractor thousands of dollars to monitor environmentalists, gay and lesbian groups and others that appeared to represent no threat to public safety.
The Harrisburg Patriot-News obtained additional documents Nov. 4 showing that said surveillance activities included watching the Twitter profiles of people who had not violated any laws, among them elderly anti-war protesters.