(NaturalNews) As news spread some months ago, in the wake of revelations divulged by former analyst Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency has been collecting metadata on Americans' phone calls and emails, most came to the conclusion that everything they were doing electronically was being monitored by Uncle Sam's most powerful spy agency.
At the same time, many of us have shrugged off the surveillance, concluding that since we're not doing anything wrong we've got no worries. Several years ago, that might have been true, but as noted by SHTF.org in a recent essay, "the digital surveillance systems of today are far more advanced than most people understand." In short, the government's capabilities are much more sinister:
No longer are these machines simply recording the data and storing them in some historical archive to be pulled at a later date should the government ever have reason to take a closer look at your personal life.
The next generation of systems [is] being used to actively monitor your digital interactions, surfing habits, conversations and daily sentiment in an effort to predict your future behavior. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the systems currently operating within the social media sphere.
'People are tweeting about their routine activities'
The essay notes that researchers at the University of Virginia recently funded a study conducted by the U.S. Army which demonstrated that it is possible for the military to gather information on individuals' social media accounts just like the NSA, for example, but that it is also possible to aggregate and analyze the information with advanced predictive algorithms that are designed to determine what users are planning to do next. In the Army/U of V study, researchers focused specifically on predicting criminal activity by individuals, as well as crime "hot spots" around the country.
As reported by Phys.org, the research -- which was published in the journal Decision Support Systems in April, said the analysis of geo-tagged tweets can be useful in predicting 19 to 25 different kinds of crimes, including offenses such as stalking, certain kinds of assaults and theft:
The results are surprising, especially when one considers that people rarely tweet about crimes directly, said lead researcher Matthew Gerber of the university's Predictive Technology Lab.
Gerber said even tweets that have no direct link to crimes may contain information about activities often associated with them.
"What people are tweeting about are their routine activities," Gerber told Agence France-Presse. "Those routine activities take them into environments where crime is likely to happen.
"So if I tweet about getting drunk tonight, and a lot of people are talking about getting drunk, we know there are certain crimes associated with those things that produce crimes. It's indirect."
So much for the Fourth Amendment
But here is the thing: Algorithms being used don't simply scour data for obvious keyword phrases associated with criminal activity ("I'm going to kill you;" "Meet me later and we'll give so-and-so a beating;" etc.). Rather, they focus on routine activities as well as geo-location and aggregate historical information to estimate the possibilities that an individual may become involved in a crime at some future date.
It should come as no surprise, then, that police departments around the country are supremely interested in this new technology. In fact, according to SHTF.org, the New York City Police Department has already asked for a demonstration of it.
Here's one way the technology can be used to not only predict traditional crimes but identify potential domestic terrorist-related activity. One report out of Auburn, N.Y., which indicated that the Department of Homeland Security was asking local businesses to watch for potential terrorists, went so far as to provide retailers with shopping lists of possible items someone planning terrorist attacks might buy, like military MREs (Meals Ready to Eat), flashlights, camp fuel and other similar products readily available at outdoor, surplus and camping stores.
So you can see that the implications of these new algorithms, which will be taught that anyone who discusses, buys or owns these types of goods should and will be flagged for review by Homeland Security and other intelligence personnel, is breathtaking in its potential for Fourth Amendment abuses.