The methodology of social network analysis has gained new attention in recent months, in light of its potential role in NSA domestic surveillance activities. Experts in social network analysis questioned its utility for such activities, renewing a debate that has been underway since before 9/11 about the appropriate applications forsuch analytic techniques.
The July 2006 issue of Homeland Security Affairs contains an article entitled “Social Network Analysis as an Approach to Combat Terrorism: Past, Present, and Future Research” that puts this debate in context, looking at the origins of social network analysis, describing the various social network analysis-related programs inside and out of government since 9/11, and briefly examining its benefits and limitations. The article focuses on areas where social network analysis is clearly useful: the mapping of relatively small populations, i.e. known terrorist groups. It doesn’t look at the potential relevance of social network analysis to large data-sets, the subject of the recent NSA controversies. Overall though, a useful backgrounder for understanding this topic.