Teh Stranger. Aug 23:
Last Week in the Surveillance State: Seattle’s Million-Dollar, CIA-Affiliated Camera Network
I was on vacation and off the grid last week, so I apologize if this has already been on Slog. But last week’s Guardian reported on some hacked documents from Wikileaks and Anonymous showing that the US government has spent around $1 million on an extensive, pilot video-surveillance network in Washington, DC and Seattle:
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.
I wonder when some attorneys will get up the gumption to challenge this growing level of surveillance of US citizens—and constant data mining—on Fourth Amendment grounds.
Folks in Seattle have long suspected that we’ve been on the vanguard of state surveillance because of cases like this, where local and federal officials go to absurd lengths to track, surveil, and arguably entrap people, largely because of their political affiliations and beliefs. Or situations like the recent police raids on people’s homes with search warrants looking for “antigovernment or anarchist literature.” Looking for evidence of a crime—such as the political vandalism on May Day—is one thing. Looking for evidence of political opinions is something else entirely and shows some legally sloppy and ethically dubious thinking on the part of local law enforcement.
A day after the Guardian story broke, the New York Times chimed in on a much more dismissive note, reporting:
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.
Sorry, NYT, but it’s a little credulous to trust the transparency of some unnamed “officials” who’ve been forced to comment on a surveillance policy because of some hacked documents—a policy they never would have volunteered to be honest about in the first place.
And I’m not the only one who’s skeptical about the what the NYT coverage might have left out of its story.