Wednesday, August 22, 2012

move along, move along, nothing to see over here....,


Gawker | The internet has been freaking out all weekend over an ominously-titled surveillance program called "TrapWire," after it showed up in some leaked Wikileaks emails. If you've listened to the hype, you might think TrapWire was an evil omniscient spy robot that runs off the fumes of our burning Constitution. But What is TrapWire, really? Here is your guide:

So what is TrapWire, some sort of government spying program?
TrapWire is a surveillance system sold by a Virginia-based firm of the same name, which is meant to thwart terrorist attacks before they happen. TrapWire works by collecting data from thousands of security cameras and reports of suspicious activity from security teams at potential terrorist targets (known as "high value targets") and analyzing them for patterns that indicate planning of a terrorist attack. (Or other criminal activity.) It's used by some government agencies to safeguard their buildings, but it's not a government project.

So TrapWire is basically a data-mining company?
Yeah. Like any data-mining operation, they're trying to automate the search for meaningful patterns in huge databases that would be missed by someone just combing through it manually. But instead of the data being the purchases of Target customers, it's suspicious people or vehicles spotted near potential terrorist targets. TrapWire also assembles a big database of suspicious reports from all its clients, which can then be used to cross-reference threats among different facilities.

But TrapWire is super-secret, right? That's why everyone's freaking out?
TrapWire isn't secret at all. A 2006 patent application lays the whole thing out in detail. (It also offers the single best explanation of what TrapWire does.) And TrapWire's website offers a helpful description of how TrapWire ideally works:
Through the systematic capture of... pre-attack indicators, terrorist or criminal surveillance and pre-attack planning operations can be identified — and appropriate law enforcement counter measures employed ahead of the attack.
TrapWire has many government and private clients, including government buildings, military installations, casinos, and hotels. The VP of security firm Stratfor claimed that "TrapWire is in place at every [high value target] in NYC, DC, Vegas, London, Ottawa and LA," in an email leaked by Wikileaks.

If TrapWire has existed publicly since 2006, why is everyone talking about it all of a sudden?
TrapWire turned up in a bunch of emails leaked recently by Wikileaks. If you remember, Wikileaks has been slowly publishing a cache of five million emails that Anonymous hackers stole from the private security firm Stratfor. Last week, they released some that revealed Stratfor had a partnership with TrapWire, where they both agreed to promote each other's products to clients and in turn shared commissions if anything came out of the deal. The emails also included some discussion of TrapWire's capabilities.

Since geeks take everything contained in a Wikileaks release as a "revelation"—even if it's already well-known—the emails have been breathlessly pumped up as the revelation of some super-secret "mass surveillance program" that "monitors your every move."