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by Mike Zazaian October 4, 2006 - 3:27pm, No Comments

Big Brother Software Monitors Foreign Opinions of the US

The Department of Homeland Security is funding software that could sort through foreign newspapers and other publications in order to track negative opinions of the US.

According to officials in the Department of Homeland Secruity the software will be used to identify potential threats to the United States. The software is currently being developed by an array of universities including Cornell University, the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Utah.

Initial tests of the software will filter through the text of several hundred articles written in foreign countries between 2001 and 2002. The software will identify foreign reactions to Bush’s use of the term axis of evil, the handling of detainees at Guantanamo Bay, the debate over global warming and the coup attempt against Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. These test articles will train the software to recognize, rank and interpret statements about relevant topics. Development of the software will continue over three years, funded by a Ū.4 million grant from a research group that was once associated with the CIA.

And while the software certainly raises a number of concerns over privacy, the Department of Homeland Security insists that the only point of the project is, To identify common patterns from numerous sources of information which might be indicative of potential threats to the nation. According to department spokesman Christopher Kelly, Federal law prohibits any department in the US government from monitoring citizens in this way. However, there are no restrictions regarding the monitoring of foreign citizens, Kelly said.

And while the prospect of the software might be a bit spooky, it could be a number of years before the program proves fully functional. Researchers will continue to improve the software’s ability to rank and identify qualitative statements. Claire T. Cardie, a professor of computer science at Cornell, said specifically the software will have to distinguish between terms like this spaghetti is good and this spaghetti is not very good — it’s excellent.

[via cnet]