Software that tracks your every move and predicts future behavior draws heat
A video obtained exclusively by The Guardian shows how software developed by the US defense contractor Raytheon, can gather vast amounts of personal information from social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare.
Raytheon has admitted that the technology was shared with the US government as part of a joint research and development program in 2010, as part of an effort to build a national security system capable of analyzing trillions of entities from cyberspace.
But, the Massachusetts-based company says it has not sold the software, which is called Riot, or Rapid Information Overlay Technology, to any clients.
The controversial software allegedly enables access to entire parts of a person’s life, their friends, any pictures of themselves they have posted online and places they have visited charted on a map.
In the video it is explained by Brian Urch, Raytheon’s ‘principal investigator’, exactly how the program can be used to track someone down.
“We’re going to track down one of our employees,” says Urch. He then proceeds to show, using information gathered from social networking sites, how “Nick” visited Washington National Park and a picture of Nick in the park with a blonde woman.
“We know where Nick is going, we know what Nick looks like, now we want to try to predict where he will be in the future,” Urch continues.
As Nick regularly uses Foursquare, a phone app that alerts friends to your whereabouts, it was possible for Riot to track the top ten places visited by Nick and the times at which they were visited.
It shows that Nick visits a gym every Monday at 6am. “So if you want to get hold of Nick, or maybe get hold of his laptop, you might want to visit the gym at 6am on a Monday,” says Urch.
Using public websites for law enforcement is considered legal in most countries, and Riot will be of interest to intelligence and national security agencies. In February last year the FBI requested that it wanted to develop ways of mining social media sites for monitoring “bad actors or groups”.
This has prompted concern from civil liberties groups about online privacy. Ginger McCall, an attorney at the Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center, said Riot raised concerns about how an individual’s data could be collected covertly without oversight or regulation.
“Users may be posting information that they believe will be viewed only by their friends, but instead it is being used by government officials or pulled in by data collection services like the Riot search,” McCall told The Guardian.
But Raytheon defended its product and in an email to the Guardian Jared Adams, a spokesman for the company’s intelligence and information systems department, said it would help to meet the US’s rapidly changing security needs.He also highlighted that it does not analyze personally identifiable information, such as bank details or social security numbers.
In December Raytheon indicated that Riot would be part of a patent the company is pursuing for a system designed to gather data from social networking sites and blogs to identify if someone is a national security risk.