Digital Footprints Replace Fingerprints In Intel Probes

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The fingerprint has yielded to the digital footprint in intelligence probes. Counterterrorism investigators still rely heavily on tools like surveillance cameras, license plate readers, and facial recognition software to track potential terror plots in the physical realm. They now delve with as much vigor into the social media activity of suspects, McClatchy Newspapers reports. Investigators do what is called “sentiment analysis” to determine how a suspect feels. They swim in the sea of data freely provided by the burgeoning use of social media around the world. That was the upshot of a forum yesterday by the German software giant SAP that brought together officials from the CIA, FBI, law enforcement and private security companies under the title “Wave of Change.”

“We learn more from the digital footprint of most of the individuals we investigate than from their physical fingerprint,” said Rebecca Weiner of the New York Police Department’s intelligence bureau. Data analysis of social media “is revolutionizing crime fighting as well as counterterrorism,” she said, even as agencies struggle to stay abreast of the “dizzying array of data services and platforms” that allow them to monitor social media. Social media accounts can give investigators an immediate look at a suspect’s network of friends and associates, said Philip Mudd, a former CIA and FBI counterterrorism official. “I need context. Do they quote verses from the Quran? Do they talk about acquiring nails from Amazon because they are going to build a backpack bomb?” Mudd asked.

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