We Can't Spy Internally With the CIA, So We Will Use the Fed

Tyler Durden finds a creepy RFP at the Fed:

the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, ... in a Request for Proposals filed to companies that are Fed vendors, is requesting the creation of a "Social Listening Platformwhose function is to "gather data from various social media outlets and news sources." It will "monitor billions of conversations and generate text analytics based on predefined criteria." The Fed's desired product should be able to "determine the sentiment [ED:LOL] of a speaker or writer with respect to some topic or document"... "The solution must be able to gather data from the primary social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, Blogs, Forums and YouTube. It should also be able to aggregate data from various media outlets such as: CNN, WSJ, Factiva etc." Most importantly, the "Listening Platform" should be able to "Handle crisis situations, Continuously monitor conversations, and Identify and reach out to key bloggers and influencers."

  • TVH

    Whoa! Did I take the red pill?

  • James H

    Shhh! There must be no criticism of the mighty Fed!

  • Gary

    I've got very mixed feelings regarding the macro-effects of pervasive social networking. There are millions of people who don't seem to have a problem sharing almost everything with the world and it seems inevitable that people will find ways to analyze and react to that stream of raw data. The government is of course a special case but I think sentiment analysis is just another example of the transformative power of the Internet and the way it radically reduces the cost of acquiring and disseminating information.

    This technology (sentiment analysis) is readily available:

    http://blog.evri.com/index.php/2009/08/11/sentiment-api-exposes-webs-feelings/
    http://intridea.com/2010/11/29/sentiment-analysis-using-tweetsentimentscom-api?blog=company
    http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/112932-Twitter-Trends-Beat-Analysts-In-Predicting-Wall-Street
    http://www.lymbix.com/

  • Gary

    Another thought. Is it really 'spying' if the only input is publicly available information? It may still be creepy, unwarranted, bad policy, or inappropriate, but is it spying?

  • http://www.grouchyconservativepundits.org Rusty Bill

    Gary, what is your guarantee that it will be limited to "public" information, now and forever? This is a government operation; it will inevitably, eventually, start digging into private emails, limited-access webpages, etc.

    Back to the OP:

    "The Fed’s desired product should be able to “determine the sentiment [ED:LOL] of a speaker or writer with respect to some topic or document”…"

    Uh huh. And what about those who are arguing/posting as "devil's advocate"?

  • Gary

    Rusty: Not sure I follow you. The technology in question just analyzes text. You still have to collect that information in some manner. I don't know how you could constrain the government from analyzing information in the abstract, but you can certainly constrain the government from collecting private information (i.e. spying).

    So I guess my response to you is that the method of collection is where I think the 'limits' should be enforced and not on the manner of analysis. So I don't see that it would make sense to constrain the government from analyzing public news sources but it would make sense to constrain the government's access to private email.

    My first comment is still awaiting moderation and it has links to several companies that provide 'sentiment analysis' software or services.

  • http://www.grouchyconservativepundits.org Rusty Bill

    Gary, you apparently believe - "you can certainly constrain the government from collecting private information" - that it is possible to control the government.

    I do not.

  • Lisa

    Think of it as someone listening in to a conversation you are having with a friend at a coffee shop, then passing whatever he heard on to a someone else. Spying might sound extreme, but how is that inappropriate? I don't think a conversation I have with a friend, even if it is on Facebook and not in a coffee shop should ever be recorded, examined and analyzed by someone in my government anymore than I think they should be listening in to my coffee shop conversations. Just because we moved the conversation online and made it easier to listen in doesn't make it okay.

  • Jeff

    Exactly what part of the Fed's charter requires this tool?

  • Gary

    Rusty: If your starting point is that it is not possible to constrain government, then I'm not sure how to proceed with any sort of discussion on what is an appropriate role for government.

    I do think that government needs to be scaled back and that our current situation is far from the limited government specified in the Constitution but I'm not willing to simply discard the entire concept of government as you seem to suggest.

  • Gary

    Lisa: I don't think your analogy works. Posting to Facebook, tweeting to the world, or publishing to your blog are not the same thing as talking to your friend in a coffee shop.

    I could support rules about how the government can or can't use information it collects on individuals from public sources but I don't think it necessarily makes sense to say that any analysis of public information by the government is 'spying', which was my original point.

  • epobirs

    Anybody who doesn't find this immensely creepy needs to think about this more. This is the Federal Reserve. Rather than actually exercise good policy (or admit their mission has always been a failure because they're attempting to manipulate a chaotic system) they instead are trying to micromanage their reaction to public opinion. This sounds far more like an attempt to manage PR campaigns than do anything that helps the nation. It's the Fed protecting itself rather than actually doing its impossible job.

    The claim is that enough intel gathering could have avoided an event like the 1929 Crash but that is nonsense. It was Fed policy that enabled the Crash in the first place. Credit went insane and far too many people took positions that would leave them ruined at the slightest downturn. Sound familiar? It doesn't take an ultra high tech opinion monitoring apparatus to know when you're doing the wrong thing, just the ability to discern between right and wrong. Remember, Greenspan thought a housing bubble was a good thing, to to avoid the full effects of the recession that came in the wake of the dot.com lunacy. This was no accident that could have been averted with greater and better intel. It was a pure moral failure of the people at the controls. A bubble is always a bad, destructive thing, yet they thought it was better than being revealed as the hapless fools they really are.

    Honest economists will admit it's damn near impossible to manipulate an economy into genuine improvement rather than an illusory sort that brings later penalties but it is very easy indeed to damage and even wreck an economy.

  • Jake S.

    Remember how hard the Bush-era TIA program got slammed?

    (rightfully so, IMO)

  • Smock Puppet, Professional Clue Rhabdomancer

    >> Rusty: If your starting point is that it is not possible to constrain government, then I’m not sure how to proceed with any sort of discussion on what is an appropriate role for government.

    Gary, my own tendency is to support Rusty on this. It is a heck of a lot easier to limit the government when they don't have tools that they can abuse for the purpose, which are of doubtful need in the first place.

    As far as the government's tendency to massively abuse powers it has legitimately, I simply cite for you The Patriot Act.

    While I do not wholly disagree with the purpose of TPA, I did, immediately, notice that it made no distinction whatsoever between domestic and foreign threats. This gave it far more leeway in acting against US citizens than it had any justifiable business having given the motivation behind it, to deal in a preventive way with the post-911 reality of threats due to foreign actives.

    The significance of how little respect the Fed paid to the impetus behind this law is engendered in the fact that, within only SIX MONTHS of its passing, the Justice Department had a traveling sideshow for various local LEOs and AGs to detail for them how TPA could be used in dealing with their own home-bound cases.

    In other words, the JD was openly encouraging clear and self-evident misuse of the intent of this law, regardless of staying within the letter of it.

    Give them a power, THEY WILL ABUSE IT.

    As a result, the wise man asks, right up front: Why do they need this? What is their goal with it, and how might it be abused? What constraints are missing right at the start that they will work towards the "abuse" end?

  • Roman

    The Agency does operate regularly domestically, contrary to Federal Law. People have no idea.

  • b

    Set sarcasm shields to max. No, serious, how will it deal with even patent sarcasm?

    This story doesn't worry me because other branches of the government have surely already tested or are running similar systems with less innocuous goals and methods (from a constitutional basis) and well away from public scrutiny.

  • Vani Smith

    Hilarious when I 1st read about it, still hilarious every time. HOW? would these clueless Fed ever do anything like what they outline?

    (& why? Really.)

    & the outline itself is totally unclear. Anyone could do anything based on that description. Statistics ... Like polls. Who defines what?

    So ... pork-barrel only?

    & yeah, a delicate balance between what info or just babble is in the public realm vs an intended private conversation. Say: A forum posting that is selected 4 (assumed common interests) members only: Private? Public? Semipublic? Food 4 the Fed?

    Do we fear this or just fall about laughing?