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More information about citizens’ lives is recorded than ever before. Because the data is digitized, it can be accessed, analyzed, shared, and combined with other information to generate new knowledge. In a post-9/‌11 environment, the legal standards impeding access to such data have fallen. Simultaneously, the advent of global communications and cloud computing, along with network convergence, have expanded the scope of information available. The U.S. government has begun to collect and to analyze the associated data.

The result is the emergence of what can be termed “social intelligence” (SOCINT), which this Article defines as the collection of digital data about social relationships. What distinguishes this type of information from more traditional forms of intelligence is that it draws from novel, digitized sources, such as metadata, social media, and geolocational information, to construct a detailed picture of networks—which themselves then serve as starting points for further analysis. The telephony metadata program initiated under Section 215 of the USA PATRIOT Act provides one prominent example. Numerous other initiatives are underway. These collection programs carry significant risks. The construction of ZunZuneo demonstrates how SOCINT can be used not just to understand social dynamics, but to drive political, economic, or social change. As a constitutional matter, the broad collection of social data is at cross-purposes with the Fourth Amendment, with sobering consequences for individual rights. SOCINT thus ought to be treated as a form of collection in its own right, subject to unique restrictions, and not as a concomitant of other collection techniques.

Publication Citation

Laura Donohue, The Dawn of Social Intelligence (SOCINT), 63 DRAKE L. REV. 1061 (2015)