ITEM: According to Wired.com's Danger Room blog, a draft intelligence report from the 304th Military Intelligence Battalion posted on the Federation of American Scientists web site has declared Twitter a potential terrorist tool.
The actual focus of the report is on how terrorists on forum sites are actively discussing ways to use mobile phones equipped with cameras and GPS chips (the Nokia 6210, say) to "monitor the enemy and its mechanisms" as well "marksmanship, border crossings, and in concealment of supplies". Voice-modification software and jihad wallpapers are also popular topics.
Twitter hasn't come up among terrorist circles (yet), but the Army report says terrorists could potentially use it as "a countersurveillance, command and control, and movement tool". For example, the report says, activists at August's Republican National Convention used Twitter "to add information on what was happening with Law Enforcement near real time."
Naturally, it's hard for me to take this kind of thing seriously. Little of this is new, for a start, except for the Twitter angle - and that could be done more effectively via mobile email or mobile IM. Which means BlackBerries and Yahoo! Messenger are potential terrorist tools.
So are cars, shoes and office supplies. Which is why it's important to take these things with a grain of salt.
I don't blame the intel community for looking at different possible ways that the bad guys can communicate with each other. The problem is that governments tend to overreact to new tricks, whether it's pushing massive surveillance plans, banning Wi-Fi on airplanes or shutting off mobile networks and GPS coverage just because a terrorist might use them.
Hysteria over social networking sites is hardly new, either. Remember all the hand-wringing last year over how MySpace was festering with sexual predators targeting children‾ That turned out to be overblown, too.
What are the odds we'll be seeing some law enforcement agencies or government security ministers demanding that Twitter start handing over information on its users and discontinuing anonymous accounts‾
On the bright side, the decision by the Indian government to allow BlackBerry services into the country despite fears from security agencies that terrorists might use them is a sign that reason can prevail over fear, if only when the commercial benefits outweigh the potential threat.