Home > Uncategorized > WikiLeaks Stirs Global Fears on Antiterrorist Software

WikiLeaks Stirs Global Fears on Antiterrorist Software

WASHINGTON — A new release of stolen corporate e-mails byWikiLeaks has set off a flurry of concern and speculation around the world about a counterterrorist software program called TrapWire, which analyzes images from surveillance cameras and other data to try to identify terrorists planning attacks.

“U.S. government is secretly spying on EVERYONE using civilian security cameras, say WikiLeaks,” read a headline on Monday at the British newspaper Web site Mail Online. The article included a photograph from the movie “The Bourne Identity.” PC Magazine described TrapWire as “a secret, comprehensive U.S. surveillance effort.”

Though TrapWire Inc., the Virginia company that sells the software, would not comment on Monday, the reports appear to be wildly exaggerated. TrapWire was tried out on 15 surveillance cameras in Washington and Seattle by the Homeland Security Department, but officials said it ended the trial last year because it did not seem promising.

A claim in the leaked e-mails that 500 cameras in the New York subway were linked to TrapWire is false, said Paul J. Browne, the New York Police Department’s chief spokesman. “We don’t use TrapWire.”

TrapWire is discussed in dozens of e-mails from Stratfor Global Intelligence, a private security firm in Austin, Tex., that were posted online last week by WikiLeaks. The e-mails were part of a large cache captured late last year and early this year by hackers associated with the loose-knit international collective called Anonymous, which gave the e-mails to WikiLeaks.

The WikiLeaks Web site has been shut down by unidentified hackers in recent days, leading to speculation that it might be retaliation for the e-mail leaks.

TrapWire was originally developed in 2004 by the Abraxas Corporation, which was founded by several former C.I.A. employees. It later spun off TrapWire, but the C.I.A. connection, along with the company’s vague but impressive descriptions of the program’s capabilities, appears to have fueled the furor on the Web that it was a sort of automated Big Brother.

TrapWire’s marketing materials say it uses video cameras and observations by security guards to develop a 10-point description of people near a potential terrorist target and an eight-point description of vehicles. It also records “potential surveillance activity, such as photographing, measuring and signaling,” combining in a TrapWire database “this human-entered data with information collected by sensors.”

If the same person or car is picked up in multiple locations engaging in suspicious behavior, the software is supposed to make the connection. But a privacy statement on theTrapWire Web site says the software does not capture “personal information.”

Jay Stanley, who studies threats to privacy at the American Civil Liberties Union, said many companies had tried to use technology “to find terrorist plots in an ocean of information about everyday activities.”

“But it’s extremely difficult, and probably impossible, to distinguish the one-in-a-billion terrorist from innocent people doing ordinary things like taking pictures,” Mr. Stanley said, adding that the current fears demonstrate why the government should publicly address concerns about surveillance before adopting new technologies.

“We live in a democracy,” he said, “and that’s what security agencies are here to protect.”

SCOTT SHANE

August 13, 2012

Related link – http://tinyurl.com/d96anqz

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