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Z Gesundh Wiss. 2018;26(5):509-514. doi: 10.1007/s10389-018-0899-3. Epub 2018 Feb 10.

Intelligence and global health: assessing the role of open source and social media intelligence analysis in infectious disease outbreaks.

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1Conflict and Health Research Group, King's College London, London, UK.
King's Centre for Global Health, Suite 2.13 Weston Education Centre, Cutcombe Road, London, SE5 9RJ UK.
3International Prevention Research Institute, Lyon, France.
4Department of War Studies, King's College London, London, UK.



Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) and Signals Intelligence (SIGINT) from the clandestine intelligence sector are being increasingly employed in infectious disease outbreaks. The purpose of this article is to explore how such tools might be employed in the detection, reporting, and control of outbreaks designated as a 'threat' by the global community. It is also intended to analyse previous use of such tools during the Ebola and SARS epidemics and to discuss key questions regarding the ethics and legality of initiatives that further blur the military and humanitarian spaces.


We undertake qualitative analysis of current discussions on OSINT and SIGINT and their intersection with global health. We also review current literature and describe the debates. We built on quantitative and qualitative research done into current health collection capabilities.


This article presents an argument for the use of OSINT in the detection of infectious disease outbreaks and how this might occur.


We conclude that there is a place for OSINT and SIGINT in the detection and reporting of outbreaks. However, such tools are not sufficient on their own and must be corroborated for the intelligence to be relevant and actionable. Finally, we conclude that further discussion on key ethical issues needs to take place before such research can continue. In particular, this involves questions of jurisdiction, data ownership, and ethical considerations.


Epidemics; Global health; Intelligence; OSINT; SIGINT

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare they have no conflicts of interest.This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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