Even though the FBI is seeking technology to help it sift through raw social media and uncover nuggets of intelligence, one FBI official says social media data mining is a precarious proposition.
"When you collect that data in Washington, if you collect a bunch of data and you don't look at it and something happens, they now have the burden of responsibility, of 'Why did you do that?'" said FBI Special Agent Ganpat "Gunner" Wagh April 18 at an AFCEA Bethesda event in Bethesda, Md.
"If you don't collect, you're not responsible for analyzing it. If you collect, you better have the tools to go analyze it," he said. "You don't want to be the law enforcement or intelligence agency that missed something but you had the data."
Wagh said his unit doesn't scrape the internet or social media sites. They do, however, conduct targeted dives into social media. He said he's constantly checking in on what he can and can't do and when he can and can't do it during an investigation.
"It's a tricky landscape, there's no doubt about it," said Wagh. "I talk to my attorney almost daily to make sure that I'm in the scope of the authority."
"I say, 'This is what I'm thinking of doing, here is my predicated investigation, here's how I opened the investigation and I want to get to this point, I want to be here. What authorities do I need to do to take that next step?'" said Wagh.
The reason it's difficult to set standard policies around using social media in investigations is because cases vary, the opinions of Congress and the attorneys general could change, and "it changes from site to site," said Wagh.
"Facebook sends out an update that resets your privacy settings; it's changing all the time," said Wagh.