Thanks to tabloid headlines, we all know that social networks such as MySpace and Facebook can be fertile ground for sexual predators. And we have learned that information posted in the naivete of youth can come back to haunt teenagers in later years, as prospective employers and others come across them in simple Google searches.
Now, however, a much larger interested party has taken to scouring social networks in search of information: the federal government. According to this article in New Scientist, the National Security Agency "is funding research into the mass harvesting of the information that people post about themselves on social networks."
The government embarked on ambitious data-mining operations throughout the Internet after the 9/11 attacks, as reported by News.com and others. Yet the wild growth of MySpace and other social sites has raised the gathering of mass information to a new level: "By adding online social networking data to its phone analyses," the article points out, "the NSA could connect people at deeper levels, through shared activities, such as taking flying lessons."
Under other circumstances, this type of government program might be written off as the work of overzealous bureaucrats or even business as usual in Washington. But given its recent track record, nothing the NSA does will likely be viewed as routine anytime soon.