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CIA to start spying on social media?

The agency's not-for-profit investment arm, In-Q-Tel, has signed a deal with Visible Technologies, a company that monitors social-media activity.

Visible Technologies, a company that monitors online social activity and packages the findings for clients, has forged a "strategic partnership" with In-Q-Tel, the CIA's not-for-profit investment arm, to give the organization insight into social media.

The deal was first reported on Monday by Wired.

According to Visible Technologies, In-Q-Tel is also investing in the company through a "technology development agreement." It did not release more details than that.

However, examining Visible Technologies' work may offer insight into what In-Q-Tel has in mind.

Visible Technologies, which is based in the Seattle area, provides services that allow companies to monitor social-media activity. Companies tend to be interested in consumer opinions. With Visible Technologies' service, companies can view content from mainstream media, cultivate information from blogs, check out open Web 2.0 sites, read tweets, and more. Visible Technologies said its goal is to provide clients "with actionable insight into social-media conversations."

Aside from culling real-time, raw conversations across the Web, Visible Technologies also "scores" its content, helping clients determine the context of each mention and whether the tone of the comments are negative or not.

In-Q-Tel apparently sees Visible Technologies' offering as ideal for monitoring social media overseas.

The CIA may or may not be interested in what people think about it, per se. However, In-Q-Tel spokesman Donald Tighe told Wired that the organization plans to use Visible Technologies' service for "early-warning detection on how issues are playing internationally." He noted that it has no intentions of monitoring activity in the United States.

Steven Aftergood, a member of the Federation of American Scientists, told Wired that that contention regarding overseas use only is probably true because "even if information is openly gathered by intelligence agencies, it would still be problematic if it were used for unauthorized domestic investigations or operations."

Regardless, In-Q-Tel, and by extension, the CIA, will be monitoring tweets and other social content soon. What do you think of that? Let us know in the comments below.