The Ministry of Defence has released a data strategy that urges the British military to make better use of its “enduring strategic asset” – social media snooping and reporting dissenters to local councils.
The Ministry of Defense’s Data Strategy for Defence document [PDF] released this week says the military should conduct “Automated scanning of social media platforms” to detect “change in population sentiment,” which is sure to stoke conspiracy theories.
“Decision making is enhanced by local surveillance of groups of interest,” the strategy document states, adding that monitoring irritated citizens’ Facebook rants assists “local authorities” in imposing “heightened readiness measures.”
“As Defence’s curated data starts to flow seamlessly between users and across platforms, a truly connected Enterprise will deliver integration, nationally and internationally, across all five domains: Maritime, Land, Air, Cyber and Space. This will enable Defence to fully unleash the power of its data, connecting sensors, decision makers and effectors at scale and speed,” the document continued.
Nowhere in the document does it explain why a strategy paper has gone so far off the beaten path as to advocate for gathering data that the Ministry of Defense does not have and using it for non-military purposes.
Furthermore, the private sector has been using social media sentiment analysis for over a decade, whether for power-hungry local government employees or business marketing campaigns tracking how many people dislike a specific product or service.
The MoD data strategy was supposed to be about making good use of information already sitting inside departmental silos, as the ministry has previously acknowledged. It was published alongside the government’s space strategy.
While the ambition to treat data as “second only to our people” probably ticks a lot of management boxes, the initiative’s usefulness is hidden in the details: “efficient and effective supply chain and people planning” is one benefit of focusing on data, according to the paper, along with “well-curated data, directly enabling information, operations, analysis, analytics, AI, and R&D, makin
Regrettably, the paper is littered with impenetrable MoD-speak like this, making it difficult to figure out what it actually calls for.
The strategy document does call for more data literacy training for military personnel, as well as the establishment of new commercial relationships with “allies and industry” to “drive innovation.”
Senior personnel, most recently General Sir Patrick Sanders, have recently called for the MoD to become more technologically savvy across the board. In a speech, the commander of Strategic Command stated that he wanted computer scientists to be held in the same regard as pilots and warship captains – a noble goal, but one that appears a little unrealistic.
All of the latest MoD data focus could use some security input; things like creating easily copied Excel spreadsheets of Special Forces personnel’s personal data (not to mention every newly promoted sergeant across the entire British Army) should have been obsolete 15 years ago. The same can be said for the handling of other sensitive personal data, such as the identities of Afghan interpreters hoping to flee the new Taliban regime and settle in the West.