Defining Open Source Intelligence Gathering

Open Source Intelligence or OSINT simply refers to information that is publicly available and is determined to have intelligence value by the collectors of the information.

On the Central Intelligence Agency’s website, the Agency makes the following comments about OSINT:

Information does not have to be secret to be valuable. Whether in the blogs we browse, the broadcasts we watch, or the specialized journals we read, there is an endless supply of information that contributes to our understanding of the world. The Intelligence Community generally refers to this information as Open Source Intelligence (OSINT). OSINT plays an essential role in giving the national security community as a whole insight and context at a relatively low cost.

OSINT is drawn from publicly available material, including:

• The Internet
• Traditional mass media (e.g. television, radio, newspapers, magazines)
 Specialized journals, conference proceedings, and think tank studies
• Photos
• Geospatial information (e.g. maps and commercial imagery products)


We would also add sources such as information found in public registries and produced by public bodies where the information is required by law to be made public. These sources could include court records and land title records in many jurisdictions. Each jurisdiction has its own nuances, for example in some jurisdictions beneficial ownership records of corporations or arrest records are publicly available information.

Open Source Intelligence is not information that is obtained from private or classified sources. Private conversations, such as messages between two individuals or where an organization has produced something on a restricted area of their website which can only be accessed by a few select people is not OSINT. Furthermore, information where a judicial authority is required to obtain the information is not considered publicly available information. If the information is produced by an individual it has to be “left” in the public domain (i.e. posted on a public portion of a social media site) or must be required by law to be made public.

In recent years the term “Social Media Intelligence” or SOCMINT has emerged as subset of OSINT. SOCMINT refers to information collected from, you guessed it, social media sources. For the purposes of this material we will refer to all publicly available information, including material collected from social media as Open Source Intelligence or OSINT.