DHS hires Accenture for social network biological outbreak test

The Department of Homeland Security recently hired Accenture to conduct a one year, $3 million test that will try to identify public health trends using available social network data.

The test is meant to determine if social media can be used as an early detection tool for biological incidents. If the program is successful, it could aid in situations similar to the 2001 anthrax letters, the 2011 nuclear emergency in Japan, the 2009 bird flu pandemic and the 2003 SARS outbreak, NextGov.com reports.

President Barack Obama called for a solution to enable the early detection of outbreaks in the National Strategy for Biosurveillance in July.

"This strategy further articulates that when the collection and sharing of this essential information is prioritized, decision-making can be expedited at all levels of government and beyond," Obama said, according to NextGov.com. "While other activities are integral to everyday local biosurveillance efforts that can and should continue, our strategy calls for a national focus on fewer issues so that more can be achieved collectively. Our approach also seeks to inspire new thinking and revised methodologies to 'forecast' that which we cannot yet prove, so that timely decisions can be made to save lives and reduce impacts during an emergency incident."

A similar program led earlier by the DHS that used social networks to identify potential terrorist plots caused some members of the House of Representatives to sue the department over perceived violations of the Fourth Amendment. The DHS argued that the personal information collection was only for a small group of people and that the department protected the privacy of the innocent, NextGov.com reports.