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Intelligence services look deeper into social media

The State Security apparatus and the military Adiv (the Dutch-language acronym for the General Intelligence and Security Service) now have powerful software to dig into the deepest crevices of the internet for information. They have been waiting for almost two years for this tool, which will allow the security agencies to analyse social media, such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The tool consists of a combination of different software modules and hardware. “This will allow us to look for information more efficiently,” says Ingrid Van Daele, the State Security spokesperson. “In essence, this program does the same as what our people do manually: filtering traffic on social media and extracting information from it. Now this can be automated on a large scale.”

Terror files in recent years have shown that social media plays a role in the radicalisation of individuals. A survey by the universities of Ghent and Louvain-la-Neuve showed in 2014 how sites such as Facebook have become propaganda channels. In addition, extremists use a wide variety of online applications to communicate with each other.

“Now we will be given an immediate notification, among other things, when there is a peak in traffic on social media,” explains Van Daele. “An obvious example is the claim of attacks. We will be able to check very quickly who is saying what.” The search algorithms  also help with routine searches. For example security personnel can set instructions for an automatic check of social media on a particular day or week.

In addition to searching the “regular” internet, the tool can also be used for an analysis of the “deep web” and the “dark web”. The “deep web” consists of websites that are not indexed by standard search engines, such as Google. The “dark web” goes one step further: access to those sites requires specific software, configurations or authorisation.

In addition to State Security, Adiv and the Federal Police will also work with the tool. The original approval of the purchase dates back to August 2016, a few months after the terrorist attacks at Zaventem airport and the Maalbeek metro station. The installation is now under way and administrators of the application have already been trained.

The entire system costs around 20 million euro, which includes maintenance over the next four years. Adiv has allocated around 11 million euro for it, with State Security contributing a little over a million euro. A total of 95 licenses have been purchased, five of which go to State Security. An evaluation of the system is scheduled for the autumn of this year.

Arthur Rubinstein
The Brussels Times