The things with social networks is how "open" they are. I can go and look at this person's profile on Facebook and find out all about them, even in some cases getting information that I could easily use to track them down. If I was a detective/private eye, or a CIA agent or FBI or "insert acronym for an intelligence agency of your choice here" I would use facebook and twitter and whatever else to track down my targets, marks or whatnot. It is not surprising at all that we see the government using these social networks, they get more info about a person on those things than that same person's tax return.
"I doubt any serious terrorist is going to be tweeting critical info to terrorist cells."
why not it's a huge data streem and i dont think theyd be totaly direct.
i.e. code's like my dog needs to see the vet. = something like one of the gay's we sent on a covert op got shot.
I have no problem with the government monitoring and doing analyses of social networking sites, but I hope these guys get their answers too under FOIA, and I will be very curious to see the results.
My guess is they are doing is looking for appearances of certain key words or phrases on an aggregate scale to determine the general emotional state of the world/country as represented on the internet. Kind of like Ozymandious in the Watchmen. Except they won't be sending in a psychic alien monster afterwards.
I think the goal of this is to find out how exactly xxx gov agency is getting the information from these social networking sites. Obviously, if someone leaves their profile(s) publicly accessible, then the info is there for anyone to use, civilian or government personnel, for good or for ill. Now the real question is: what happens when someone wants info from a private profile? Are they creating fake profiles hoping to gain access? (masquerading as someone who knew you in high school, or any number of scenarios) Are they directly hacking/hijacking the accounts? Blatant invasions of privacy, both. Authorities should have to go through the same warrant procedure for something like this as they do with wiretaps, and I think to this point they've just been doing as they please.