Uneasy over TrapWire? Thing is, we asked for it

Much is being made of Trapwire as part of a vast spying program. But for all the outrage, it's hard to forget that we demanded such things right after 9-11.

You see them everywhere these days: Video cameras perched on telephone polls and bolted to the side of buildings. Most of us never thought much about it until the latest WikiLeaks email dump, which reveals the makings of a vast spying network controlled by different governments and large corporations like Google and Salesforce.com.

The emails suggest these entities want to use technology from TrapWire to prevent terrorist attacks. Naturally, this raises concern from civil liberty groups who see our privacy further eroded. Here are the basic details, as reported by CSO Correspondent Antone Gonsalves:

Emails released by WikiLeaks indicate governments and large corporations including Google and Salesforce.com may be interested in or are already using a spy tool called TrapWire to prevent terrorist attacks against critical facilities.

Developed by Abraxas, TrapWire is a video-surveillance program built to detect "various discreet, but identifiable indicators of pre-attack preparations," according to Abraxas documentation made available on the Bitdefender blog.

Information gathered from TrapWire can be shared with law enforcement agencies to assist in counterterrorism efforts, reports the Hot for Security blog.

Details on the possible use of TrapWire were found in emails stolen from Stratfor Global Intelligence, a provider of geopolitical analysis. Hackers broke into Stratfor's website in December and took millions of emails that WikiLeaks dumped on the web several months later.

Commentary has been harsh, particularly at such publications as Business Insider, which described a prison state in the making:

So: those spooky new "circular" dark globe cameras installed in your neighborhood park, town, or city—they aren't just passively monitoring. They're plugged into Trapwire and they are potentially monitoring every single person via facial recognition. In related news, the Obama administration is fighting in federal court this week for the ability to imprison American citizens under NDAA's indefinite detention provisions—and anyone else—without charge or trial, on suspicion alone. So we have a widespread network of surveillance cameras across America monitoring us and reporting suspicious activity back to a centralized analysis center, mixed in with the ability to imprison people via military force on the basis of suspicious activity alone. I don't see how that could possibly go wrong. Nope, not at all. We all know the government, and algorithmic computer programs, never make mistakes.

[See Bob Bragdon on cybersecurity legislation (or lack thereof): The many seasons of our discontent]

A few thoughts:

1.) Seeing the picture painted by these leaked emails is indeed chilling. When you give government and big business the power to spy and put a vast network in place for the task, it's only a matter of time before someone, somewhere, abuses it.

2.) If you're spooked by what TrapWire can help its customers do, you should really be spooked by the depth with which social networking sites like Facebook can monitor our every move, based entirely on the pictures, FourSquare check-ins, likes and comments WE post.

3.) In cases 1 and 2, we asked for it.

We've covered the social networking/loss of privacy angle quite a bit. Two articles that stand out in my mind -- I did write them, after all -- are "6 Ways We Gave Up Our Privacy" and  "7 Deadly Sins of social networking security." People love to share everything about their lives on Facebook and Twitter. I know I'm guilty of it. The more details you spill, the better an adversary will understand you.

As for cameras watching our every move, we did indeed ask for it. In the days, weeks and months following 9-11, we demanded the government never let such a thing happen again. We demanded homeland security. And so we allowed things like the PATRIOT Act to happen. We spoke a lot about preserving freedom back then, but when you crave security you're going to willingly give up some of that freedom. It's human nature. And it's as contradictory as the guns and butter philosophy of the 1960s, when the Johnson Administration pursued massive spending for domestic programs (The Great Society) while pouring money into the Vietnam conflict.

Of course, security has always been a delicate balancing act. As citizens we have to make up our minds. Do we want total security or total freedom?

We can't have it both ways, so we'll have to find the sensible center -- if one exists.

[Read more about critical infrastructure in CSOonline's Critical Infrastructure section]

Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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