BiosecurityScanning social media as a tool for biosurveillance
DHS is considering observing and scanning social media Web sites to collect and analyze health-related data which could help identify outbreaks of infectious diseases and other public health and national security risks
DHS is considering observing and scanning social media Web sites to collect and analyze health-related data which could help identify outbreaks of infectious diseases and other public health and national security risks.
Govinfosecurity reports that DHS has agreed to a one-year $3 million contract with Accenture Federal Services, which will provide the software and services for the program. The program will involve automatically scanning social media sites such as Twitter, MySpace, and Facebook to collect information and analyze data in real time, according to John Matchette, managing director for Accenture’s public safety portfolio.
Health-related keywords and other information including medical information that shows up in postings on social media web sites will be collected and analyzed according to Matchette, who guarantees privacy.
“The information won’t be tracked back to individuals who posted it,” Matchette told Govinfosecurity.
That has not stopped privacy advocates from questioning DHS on the program.
“Even when data is in aggregate, we don’t have any clear policies around how data will be used and how it can be traced back, including if and when there are signs of an illness outbreak,” Deven McGraw, director of the health privacy project at the Center for Democracy & Technology said. “I think it’s a legitimate question to ask [DHS] what the guidelines are for using this data. I’d prefer they have a plan in advance for dealing with this, rather than waiting.”
Matchette told Govinfosecurity that the system will “watch for trends” such as unusual clusters of symptoms in different geographical regions being reported on social sites.
Accenture will deal with the analysis of social media data, but the biosurveillance effort can be made to expand to pull data from other sources such as hospital emergency departments, drug distribution companies, and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
DHS is now using data from public health departments that report to the CDC and is also collecting air samples from major cities in an effort to detect dangerous chemicals such as anthrax.