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Originally published March 17 2012

State department seeking to turn social media users into global government spies

by J. D. Heyes

(NaturalNews) In an ongoing effort to prevent the proliferation of nuclear weapons in these unstable times, a top State Department official has proposed using social media as a way to keep track of the world's most destructive devices.

Rose Gottemoeller, acting Undersecretary of State for Arms Control, sees the concept as just another way to keep atomic bombs out of the hands of terrorists and under the control of responsible governments and regimes.

As such, Gottmoeller says she wants ordinary citizens to become more involved. As an avid Twitter user, she says using such crowdsourcing tools is a good way to help the U.S. and other governments "understand what's going on with a nuclear facility in a certain country, for example, or what's going on with the production of chemicals at a chemical plant."

Citizens on patrol

"As we look to the future of nuclear arms reductions, for example, we're concerned about going after smaller objects like warheads and monitoring warheads," Gottmoeller - the chief American negotiator on the New START arms reduction treaty with Russia - said. "How can we be helped by the kind of information that's readily available throughout the cybersphere?"

That treaty, now a year into its implementation, has her thinking about the next items on the country's arms control agenda.

As such Gottmoeller, during a recent speech in Seattle, called on programmers and engineers to develop new crowdsourcing tools that could be employed by citizens and groups such as non-governmental organizations to help nations monitor proliferation, a practice she says should actually increase trust between citizens and their governments.

Already firms are at work on a cell phone app that is able to detect radiation and allow users to immediately post levels on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. And others are utilizing existing technology to monitor potential proliferators.

In this vein, Joe Cirincione, the president of the Ploughshares Fund, a group that advocates a nuclear weapons-free world, points to the use of commercial satellites by organizations like the Institute for Science and International Security to take pictures of Iran's suspected nuclear weapons sites - photos that are then posted online.

Shining a light on violators

"What used to be the sole tool of great states can now be purchased by an NGO," Cirincione said. "You can imagine how you can take that kind of transparency and verification technologies that satellites give you, marry it up to the networking capabilities that Facebook, Twitter and the Web give you, and you can really start to imagine a verification regime that would make it very difficult for any state to hide a significant nuclear capability."

Besides simply wanting an additional tool that can be used to prevent proliferation, Gottmoeller says such social media tools will also promote citizen-state trust.

"We think that this is a realm where governments can actually partner with their citizens in order to make the case that they are fully living up to their arms control obligations," she said.

Still, not everyone is convinced her idea is a good one. Lots of governments "rely on secrecy," says George Perkovich, a nuclear policy expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and they cringe at the notion that citizens may be trying to monitor activities that, by design, are supposed to be covert. As such, getting governments to be more transparent, especially about nuclear weapons, will be "harder" to accomplish.

"If people try to organize groups along this basis, I would think those states could say that that's a violation of the state's monopoly on this function, and you could say it's an act of treason or espionage, and people may be putting their lives at risk," he said.

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