When the youth of Tunisia and Egypt used social networks like Facebook and Twitter to organize protests that ended decades of oppressive rule in both countries, it seemed like something to file under "it could never happen here." When the citizens of London used these tools to organize several days' worth of riots and looting during the summer, we thought, "well, maybe that could happen here." Even the Tea Party movement that's shaken up US politics in recent years began with Facebook groups. Well, apparently your favorite Big Brother and mine is concerned about the use of social networks to foment "potential threats": that's right, Homeland Security is at it again.
We're not sure where this will go: insofar as the President has spent lots of time in the past year making nice with technology entrepreneurs like Mark Zuckerberg, it's hard to believe that the people running these firms won't protest loudly at Homeland Security's efforts to mine their networks. These efforts will have a chilling effect on the flow of information over these services, which makes them less valuable to merchants and advertisers. More worrying, however, is that DHS lacks a clear idea of what they're doing. With an immense amount of data to sort through, their analysts may well be tempted to make up the logic as they go along, a process that's almost certain to lead to mistakes and abuse.