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Secret Raytheon Software is a Search Engine For Spying on Social Media Activity

BY Julia Wetherell | Thursday, February 14 2013

Screengrab from a video obtained by the Guardian, of a Raytheon employee demonstrating the uses of RIOT.

Earlier this week The Guardian broke the news that US-based defense contractor and security firm Raytheon has developed software over the past two years that can comprehensively track activity across social media platforms.  Across the web, people have weighed in on how this “Google for spies” will affect the future of surveillance – and the US government’s infiltration of the lives of foreign citizens. 

A video obtained by the Guardian shows a Raytheon staff member demonstrating the uses of the RIOT platform – that’s Rapid Information Overlay Technology – by following the online activity of a fellow employee.  It all seems innocuous enough, as he maps geodata from Facebook check-ins at the gym and iPhone selfies at a baseball stadium, based on location coordinates in the photos’ metadata. 

But RIOT can build prediction models based on this information – essentially giving whoever gets their hands on this technology the power to anticipate the movements of tracked individuals.  The Guardian noted that this flips popularized notion of social media as a democratic tool on its head, “[demonstrating] how the same social networks that helped propel the Arab Spring revolutions can be transformed…and tapped as a means of monitoring and control.”

Exactly who will be able to use this technology is currently a matter of speculation.  Raytheon says it has not yet sold the software to any clients, though it was developed as a joint venture with the US government back in 2010. This prompts the assumption that, like the drone program, RIOT could someday constitute another arm of covert American surveillance and control over international parties.  An article from France’s Nouvel Observateur (the title: “How Washington Is Spying On You”) noted today that the software could be put to use in the American crackdown on cyber warfare.  This is an effort that could unnecessarily track the geodata of potential millions of innocent citizens in Russia and China, as well as in countries with smaller levels of hacking activity, like Israel and France. 

Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network for its generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.

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