Is Russian ownership of Facebook a threat to national security?

Posted: 5/26/2009 3:46:10 PM
Through its social graphs, Facebook knows more about Americans than most Americans. What if the Russians do too?

According to Techcrunch, Facebook took $200 Million from a Russian Internet Investment firm. Putting aside the scary images from Training Day, such an investment does raise concerns about foreign ownership of American properties and such concern is not without precident.

In 2006, when Dubai Ports World wanted to buy a stake in American shipping centers, the ports deal was reviewed, then Congress declared war on it. The argument went like this,
Terrorist organizations could use containers to smuggle weapons or terrorists into the United States, or could turn a container into a weapon by detonating a conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear weapon within a container once it arrives on American shores.


That deal posed a physical threat to our lives, but what about threats posed by knowledge gained from information on the Internet -- or behind it? Pause for a second. I know it sounds paranoid, but Japan is creating its own search engine. Why? Because, according to the article,
Many people in Japan fear that the domination of the three [internet search] firms will prevent Japanese companies from entering the market.
France is doing the same.

Governments around the world clearly believe information on the web is of National importance. So much so, that they are creating their own competitors to giants in the United States.

Not only do national governments believe it is critical to ensure access to information on the web, but they also want to limit access to information on the web. Lots of areas of Google maps are blurred for security reasons. Even India fears Google Earth may be a threat to their national security, because:
these websites provided minute details, photographs and 'extremely accurate navigational coordinates' of sensitive areas.


These concerns are about visible, physical features of our land, but what about features of our social graph? Who knows whom. Where they live. Where they are going to be. What they listen to and read. Facebook has a very large collection of our most intimate connections. This information includes, and therefore, must be more valuable than the library books you read alone. The U.S. government wants access to our library records, because it believes it can use the knowledge of what an individual reads to help protect citizens of the United States. Might this information be beneficial to other organizations outside our government as well?

Of course I am not suggesting that this deal is
What security issues could result from a foreign interest having access to the most intimate connections between our citizens?
a security threat, but it does raise some interesting questions about knowledge and the future of information on the internet. Really, who knows? Maybe it is a security threat.

Even the CIA itself uses Facebook for hiring purposes. From Wired magazine,
"[Facebook is] an invaluable tool when it comes to peer-to-peer marketing," says Michele Neff, a CIA spokeswoman.
If it is valuable to our own Central Intelligence Agency, why wouldn't it be valuable to other not so friendly intelligence agencies? There is a lot more information behind Facebook's interface than is visible from the outside, but even from the outside, Facebook is valuable. I can't help but believe access to the raw data would be more valuable -- it must be.

What happens when a foreign intelligence has access to Facebook's emails? Imagine what they could find. They could find people who don't like the United States. They could find people who say angry things about our government.

I am not even going to pretend that I am as smart as the CIA or any other organized group, but if I can think of this, surely they have. How valuable would such data be? I don't know, but one of our concerns right now with North Korea is that once they know how to build nuclear weapons, they could sell this knowledge to other countries. According to PBS, regarding North Korea's monetization of nuclear capabilities, "The export of ballistic missiles and related technology is one of North Korea's main sources of hard currency." Pakistan sold, sensitive nuclear equipment and know-how to Iran. Not a physical product, only the knowledge. Knowledge.

Facebook contains information that can give, perhaps unfriendly, organizations in the world knowledge about many American citizens and also their ties to citizens of other countries as well. These connections are valuable and they aren't only valuable to corporations who want to sell us kitsch. They may want to sell us some propaganda too.

Knowledge is very powerful. Is access to knowledge a security threat? Of course it is. Is access to Facebook's knowledge a security threat? If the CIA believes Facebook is a valuable medium to help them protect our security, why couldn't it also be used to threaten our security?