Intelligence communities around the world are wary of social media because of the potential for leaking information. In the U.S., however, a social network has been built especially for government agencies that need access to real-time analysis and information.

Obama using computer1 eChirp is the social network for spies

Privacy — or the lack of it — has become talk of the town since whistlebowers leaked the fact that intelligence agencies in the US have been monitoring conversations that are supposedly private and secure. It’s not just Edward Snowden’s leaks about NSA eavesdropping and Bradley (now Chelsea) Manning’s sharing of embassy cables to Wikileaks. Even hackers are attacking known security officials and making their confidential communications public.

This is one reason why social networks are banned from official networks within the White House and the National Securiy Council, save for official use by government media personnel. The official stance is that these networks have the potential to distribute malware, which can compromise the security of the system.

Government is aware of the benefits of social networking, however, in that information from the likes of Twitter and Facebook can lead to real-time reportage and analysis of breaking news. Administration personnel admit that official channels can be slow, which means government may sometimes be late in reacting to potentially time-sensitive matters. Case in point would be the 2011 overthrow of Libyan dictator Moammar Gadaffi, which broke out via Twitter.

eChirp e1383546640520 eChirp is the social network for spies

In fact, key officials have established their own accounts on Twitter, such as President Barack Obama. Even first lady Michelle Obama has an official account. Not all personnel need to access real-time public information, however. And public social networks like Twitter are sometimes rife with inaccurate reportage and analysis, sometimes by grassroots “journalists” wanting to come out with their own scoops.

To enjoy the benefits of social networking without the noise and without the security issues, government has been running a network that is secure, which agents can use to monitor and exchange information in real-time. Dubbed eChirp, the system is patterned after Twitter (down to the use of a bird for its logo), although it is for internal use only.

“White House technology has to be at the cutting edge,” said Andrew McLaughlin, deputy CIO at the White House, to the Washington Post. He added that government should not be a “lagging implementer”.

The Verge suggests, however, that eChirp is likely to be playing second-fiddle to the likes of Twitter in terms of relevance. After all, there is only so much information that can be discussed and exchanged on a closed network. It’s not likely that the public can access eChirp anytime soon. But we can expect that government is likely watching us and our online activities.

Source: Washington Post