Privacy

Is TrapWire Response an Overreaction?

Are Internet rumors getting out of hand, like they do?

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Internet activists have whipped up a storm on Twitter in recent days over TrapWire, which they claim is a secret international facial-recognition and social-media monitoring network for use by governments. It sounds like an outrageous infringement of our rights. Unfortunately—or, perhaps, fortunately—most of it is rooted in hyperbole and misinformation, heavier on fiction than fact.

The hysteria began last week after WikiLeaks published a series of internal emails from Stratfor, a security and intelligence think tank. The emails made reference to software called TrapWire, made by TrapWire Inc., a Virginia-based company fronted by ex-CIA officers. Stratfor's vice president purportedly hinted that the program was being used at locations in the United States, Canada and London. Before long, Kremlin-backed broadcaster Russia Today was regurgitating activist claims about a widespread TrapWire face-recognition surveillance system. Without a cursory fact-check, some more-respectable outlets like BoingBoing and Salon echoed the same.

So what is TrapWire? Well, it's not facial-recognition software, it's not secret, it doesn't monitor social media, and I'd say it's a stretch to even describe it as a surveillance system. But that's not to say it isn't interesting or notable.