Trapwire is watching you in Ottawa

A U.S. counter-terrorist surveillance network has set up shop in our capital too, according to WikiLeaks


Have you heard of Trapwire? It’s a formerly obscure counter-terrorist surveillance network, created by a company run by ex-CIA agents, that links together thousands of ordinary, privately owned security cameras, digitally analyzing the footage they generate and delivering it to various police departments and branches of the U.S. federal government. It’s been making headlines in the U.S.  since Wikileaks exposed its existence, and online chatter has been obsessively focused on it ever since. There’s been endless analysis, opinion, misinformation and clarification (here’s a credible run-down of the story so far). Everyone from NBC to Anonymous is talking about it, but the Canadian media has yet to take notice. Which is surprising, since Trapwire is apparently live in Ottawa.

Wikileaks has leaked emails from private security firm Stratfor, who market Trapwire. One of them, written by Stratfor vice president Fred Burton, says:

“Trapwire is in place at every HVT in NYC, DC, London, Ottawa and LA.” 

In U.S. Military parlance, an HVT is a “high-value target,” like a federal government building, a military structure or a travel hub. Ottawa has lots of those, and apparently they all house cameras that are spying on Canadians and feeding the footage to Trapwire.

Trapwire’s menace has been overhyped. It does not collect facial recognition data, as has been rumoured. Neither does it allow authorities to track individuals as they move from camera site to camera site. These myths have been debunked, as journalists and security analysts learn more about what the Trapwire network does in fact do. The language around that is pretty fuzzy. Trapwire claims to “detect patterns of behavior indicative of pre-operational planning.” What does this mean? Does Trapwire watch for  individuals who visit and stake out several possible targets? How can it tell them apart from sight-seeing tourists? What exactly indicates “pre-operational planning”? Have there been enough terrorist operations to provide a viable dataset on which Trapwire can base its scrutiny? The mechanics and effectiveness of the system is very much in doubt.

Regardless of whether or not Trapwire works, it’s still a cause for concern. By piggybacking on privately owned cameras and linking them to government authorities, Trapwire circumvents privacy laws and law enforcement protocols. Annalee Newitz at Gawker’s i09 blog argues persuasively that the whole thing probably violates U.S. Constitutional law. Noah Scachtman at Wired documents the sleazy dealings between Trapwire and Stratfor as they colluded to sell expensive licenses (starting at $20,000) to government agencies and private clients.

Add to this the one crucial question for us Canadians. If Trapwire’s activity does indeed extend to Ottawa, who’s on the receiving end of the data flow? Is it our government or is Homeland Security spying on Canadians as well?

Follow Jesse on Twitter @JesseBrown


Trapwire is watching you in Ottawa

  1. Since you had no idea this thing existed before Wikileaks exposed it, I have have no reason to believe your assurances that it isn’t capable of facial recognition or other sinister capabilities. I appreciate your attempt at objectivity, but people of earth have very little reason to trust the US government.

    • “Trapwire’s menace has been overhyped. It does not collect facial
      recognition data, as has been rumoured. Neither does it allow
      authorities to track individuals as they move from camera site to camera
      site. These myths have been debunked, as journalists and security
      analysts learn more about what the Trapwire network does in fact do.”

      Indeed, where are the reference links in any of those sentences? Am I just to swallow the above based on some assumption that the media never makes unfounded claims without fact checking? Is the reader meant to google all these so called “facts”, and hope that the results aren’t coming from some other “diligent investigative journalist”?

      People, what you are witnessing in the above article is nothing more than smoke coming out of a clueless hole. A vacuous utterance meant to assuage our fears with absolutist, unfounded statements of comfort. This is not journalism, my friends, this is pure, unadulterated propaganda.

      Research no further! Trust the government! Jesse-the-Yellow here has it all wrapped for us, and it’s all perfectly benevolent! I’ll be sleeping well tonight knowing that Jesse couldn’t possibly be paid to lie to us.

      Canada is falling my friends, take note. Your sovereignty is for sale.

  2. combined with the US’s new found abilitiy to make arrests on canadian soil, thx to our dimwitted leader, we are even further on our way to becoming the 51st state. The wikileaks cables are not new, technology can very easily of advanvced to the point of facial recognition since this information came to light

  3. Wired published a piece about Trapwire written by one Mr. Doernberg that Google is keeping in the top search results. The link you provide is a Trapwire article published by Storify written by one Mr.Shachtman . Both are based on nothing to see here folks move along.
    Doernberg, Shachtman there’s some type of pattern here “Berg” “Man” can’t quite recognize it yet this is so frustrating…Oy Vey…what would Joe Lieberman do in a situation like this.

  4. There are privately owned cameras in Federal Government Buildings?

  5. Um, a picture of a face is “facial recognition data”, by definition.

  6. I think this is a problem for people in Ottawa, I don’t go there myself although my tax dollars do. I couldn’t care less if some camera picked up my face and stored it somewhere in the USA or anywhere else.

    • Some day you might care and then what?

  7. Wasn’t allowing the DEA to set up shop in Vancouver already pushing the envelope far enough already?

    What does Emperor Harperius Mandatorius Minimus get from his selling out the whole of Canada, anyway?

  8. So which is it? Overhyped or cause for concern because they have set up shop in Ottawa?

  9. the world is in automatic distrust mode ,we do not need a savior we need extinction ,the human race is unworthy of continuing its existence and you all hate each other enough to put love in the ancient history books .

  10. We know here in Quebec that Brits are bandits!

  11. I rebuke any politician that allows this for our purposes or theirs. If we behaved reasonably in the first place like throughout our history that should be effective enough. The fact that this sort of thing has been discussed let alone probably installed already would be the only reason to consider that kind of weak leadership is what would have lead to the original cause for concern in the first place. The only reason they could have this kind of fear is because these government agencies were coniously doing fundamentally wrong in the first place, in which case that is the issue that really needs addressing here. Not selling out my freedom for the governments false sense of security about themselves. Who is with me on telling our leaders to buck up and stuff this rediculousness. Pathetic.

  12. this is for “counter terrorism” y would anyone believe that how many terrorist attacks have there been since 9/11? its more likely there collect information to sell people shit they dont need and collect other in info. who cares if they have cameras in private place but how many cameras do they have in public places. yall need to do what i do when i see a camera either pick up a log and smash that shit or spray paint it

  13. One of the ‘2012 Newsmakers’ you’ll not see on the list.