“TrapWire is a counter-terrorism technology company that produces a homonymous predictive software system designed to find patterns indicative of terrorism attacks” (Wikipedia). According to Wikileaks information this program takes information gathered from video cameras in major cities (Washington DC and Seattle are mentioned by name) and provides the ability to detect persons, or suspicious behavior. Wikileaks also revealed that TrapWire is owned by the company Abraxas which is staffed by ex-CIA members with a lot of experience and time in the CIA.

Consider a few of these cases through the eye of common sense and rule utilitarianism.

If a city has a warrant to surveil a person, TrapWire allows the process to be mostly automated within city limits saving the city time and money. This appears to be a legally and morally (again, rule utilitarianism) right because the city received a warrant through the judicial process which is supposed to err on the side of caution with respect to a citizens rights

Now consider a crime that has been committed and the police find a suspect. The suspect is convicted because TrapWire tracked his movements back showing motive and premeditation resulting in the death penalty. In this case it seems that TrapWire is functioning to illegally surveil the suspect because the city never received a warrant through the judicial process before hand to track the suspect. On the other hand, if the city were to piece together the same information by looking through every video camera in the city, would that be considered good sleuthing? Now the rule utilitarian has to start creating a lot of sub-rules to handle these situations specifically.

If the judicial process could be trusted then authorities using TrapWire would be doing so in a manner that would be applicable in all situations. But who’s watching the watchers?

2 Responses to Trapwire

  1. That is a good point. I guess technically it would be the job of the police directors (or whoever oversees those who operate TrapWire) to make sure that this system does not get abused and used without a warrant. I think how TrapWire could be legalized is if it automatically monitors videos and surveilance footage and if it does find a suspicious acitivity, it notifies the operators of the situation and the why the TrapWire thinks it is a threat, but does not reveal the identity or the picture of the person in question. If the operators feel that they should find out more about the case, they should then attempt to get warrants which would allow TrapWire to reveal the identity and the picture of the suspect. This definitely takes care of the legal aspect of the problem, however ethically I am not sure if would create the most amount of happiness. Real threats could simply be looked over and ignored which could harm the people. On the other hand, it has to comply with laws so perhaps would this model would be a good balance in between ethical values and the laws. I am in no way suggesting it is fully ethical though.

  2. This seems to have massive possibility for abuse. If a police officer had a personal vendetta they could use the system to spy on that person with no way of them knowing. It could also have a major impact on politics as whoever is in power might be able to gain control of the system to destroy his or her opponents. I think we all have done something at some point in time we would not want made public but with a system like this that can actually track individual people just on its own it could find these moments for use in blackmail from whoever is controlling the system. Also as far as legality it may follow the letter of the law but clearly violates the intent. The point of needing a warrant was that you could not spy on someone without good evidence that they are guilty of some crime with this system everyone is being spied on all the time. Even if a warrant was obtained to act upon information gathered the data gathering itself clearly violates any reasonable right to privacy. Ideally to comply with the intent of the Bill of Rights the government could not just film all public areas to track people and would require individual and specific warrants to get video from private businesses. I doubt that we will ever get back to that level of privacy but I sincerely hope we do not get technology that is always watching us, waiting for us to break a law as in George Orwell’s 1984. I guess it may be inevitable: Big Brother is watching…