Open Source – What does it mean?
In this series of blog posts I’m going to talk about open source information, how open source information can be used in support of intelligence gathering, dispute resolution, litigation and even criminal prosecution. Have you considered using open source information in vetting future appointments, scoping competitors and those who are hostile to the company?
If you’re an information gatherer in human resources, compliance, intelligence or in an investigative role, you can apply these concepts both in the public and commercial sectors.
The good news in these hard fiscal times is that the information itself is freely available. You just need to know where to look, what to look for and how to present it to the relevant standard in which ever environment you operate in.
Open Source is a much quoted but often misunderstood phrase. When people use the term ‘open source’ what do they actually mean? Well that depends on who you are talking to. Someone who is in the technology field will probably think of open source software or code.
Those on ‘planet Linux’ like me, associate the term with applications made freely available, where the source code can be downloaded, customised and then used without breach of copyright.
Talk to someone in the intelligence world and they immediately associate it with open source intelligence or OSINT as it is commonly referred to. Move into the law enforcement or commercial investigative environments and you will find all sorts of views as to what open source is.
It is here that term ‘open source’ has, in my opinion, lost its way. The truth is that open source means different things to different people and actually that’s fine. The problem arises when investigators are tasked to carry out ‘open source’ research on a named subject. Ask for clarification and what follows is usually something like, “Facebook, Twitter, you know; social networking”.
Responding to a request like that can result in limited and not very helpful results. This series of blog posts is my interpretation and application of open source information in investigations, where I have spent the majority of my professional working life.
The first thing to understand is that it doesn’t matter what environment you operate in, you should think of open source data as just information. It is only then, depending on the area you work in, where you can decide what you do with it. If you work in intelligence then that information can be submitted into your intelligence system, subject to the grading and handling systems that already exist. If it is to be used as evidence in civil or even criminal proceedings, then the current rules surrounding admissibility of such evidence already exist.
Often in proceedings open source information is corroborative and if presented correctly can add significant value to any internal process, for example in recruiting. The data you acquire may also need to be retained under specific legislation.
In my next article, I want to explore not only where to look but also the limitations of using just a search engine to unearth the data you’re tasked to locate.
By Ray Massie – Operations Director, First Response