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 – 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 internationally.
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