Trapwire surveillance system exposed in document leak

Eugen Leitl eugen at
Thu Aug 30 09:25:53 PDT 2012

Trapwire surveillance system exposed in document leak

Papers released by WikiLeaks show US department of homeland security paid
$832,000 to deploy system in two cities

Charles Arthur, technology editor, Monday 13 August 2012 19.04 BST	


Trapwire uses data from CCTV networks to figure out the threat level.
Photograph: Martin Bureau/AFP/Getty Images

It sounds like something from the film Minority Report: a CCTV surveillance
system that recognises people from their face or walk and analyses whether
they might be about to commit a terrorist or criminal act. But Trapwire is
real and, according to documents released online by WikiLeaks last week, is
being used in a number of countries to try to monitor people and threats.

Founded by former CIA agents, Trapwire uses data from a network of CCTV
systems and numberplate readers to figure out the threat level in huge
numbers of locations. That means security officials can "focus on the highest
priorities first, taking a proactive and collaborative approach to defence
against attacks," say its creators.

The documents outlining Trapwire's existence and its deployment in the US
were apparently obtained in a hack of computer systems belonging to the
intelligence company Stratfor at the end of last year.

Documents from the US department of homeland security show that it paid
$832,000 to deploy Trapwire in Washington DC and Seattle.

Stratfor describes Trapwire as "a unique, predictive software system designed
to detect patterns of pre-attack surveillance and logistical planning", and
cites the Washington DC police chief mentioning it during a Senate committee
hearing. It serves "a wide range of law enforcement personnel and public and
private security officials domestically and internationally", Stratfor says.

Some have expressed doubts that Trapwire could really forecast terrorist acts
based on data from cameras, but Rik Ferguson, security consultant at Trend
Micro, said the software for such systems had existed for some time.

"There's a lot of crossover between CCTV and facial recognition," he said.
"It's feasible to have a camera looking for suspicious behaviour b for
example, in a computer server room it could recognise someone via facial
recognition or your gait, then can identify them from the card they swipe to
get in, and then know whether it's suspicious if they're meant to be a
cleaner and they sit down at a computer terminal."

The claims might seem overblown, but then the idea that the US could have an
international monitoring system seemed absurd until the discovery of the
Echelon system, used by the US to eavesdrop on electronic communications

Trapwire has not yet commented on the leak.

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