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Online Persona Management

Online Persona Management? Fake IP addresses?

March 30, 2011

A Californian corporation has been contracted by the US Central Government to develop an “online persona management service”.

Apparently, they want to detect terrorists and extremists overseas.  One way they intend to do this is by creating different online identities and manipulating social media sites and blog posts. The service being developed will allow one person to keep track of up to 10 separate identities at once.

Military procured documents showed that this new software would “enable an operator to exercise a number of different online personas from the same workstation and without fear of being discovered by sophistication adversaries”.  The “personas must be able to appear to originate in nearly any part of the world”

The software manages to achieve this by generating fake IP addresses not linked with the US military, but instead seemingly coming from any desired part of the world.

The US document assures that this software is not designed for use on US audiences and therefore the software would not be used for English interventions. However, there have been concerns surrounding the creation of this software and the negative implications it might have. Web experts have seen this move as being similar to China’s attempts to control and restrict speech online. Other than purely keeping an eye out for potential terrorist activities, there are fears the software may also be used to spread pro-American propaganda and to smooth over opinions and reports that conflict with their own objectives. There is also a worry that if the US military can create false profiles, so might other government and companies as well.

UK Law

It is unclear whether a persona management programme would contravene the law in the UK.  Some say it could fall foul of the Forgery and Counterfeiting Act 1981, which states that a “person is guilty of forgery if he makes a false instrument, with the intention that he or another shall use it to induce somebody to accept it as genuine, and by reason of so accepting it to do or not to do some act to his own or any other person’s prejudice”.  However, this would only be if a website or social network could be shown to have suffered “prejudice” as a result.

Why the development was created

This development has been created as part of a program called Operation Earnest Voice (OEV).  It was first created as psychological warfare against online Al-Quaeda figures. The commander of Centcom described the operation as an attempt to “counter extremist ideology and propaganda and to ensure that credible voices in the region are heard”.

Gen Mattis said “OEV seeks to disrupt recruitment and training of suicide bombers; deny safe havens for our adversaries; and counter extremist ideology and propaganda”.

This new approach to spying on terrorists demonstrates the US Government’s anxiety over Social Media being used by terrorists as a tool for recruitment and the program is considered vital for counter-terrorism. The anxiety over the use of Facebook increased when it emerged that people planning attacks on the US had communicated with al-Qaeda figures in Yemen and Pakistan. Following this and the organization of various Revolutionary activities online, social media sites seem to be a relevant place to monitor.