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Seattle’s DHS-funded surveillance camera network raising eyebrows

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February 7, 2013 in Politics



Seattle Police Department expands citywide surveillance camera network

This year, the Seattle Police Department began installing 30 new surveillance cameras to add to its port security camera network that will stretch from Shoreline to Fauntleroy.

While these cameras are new, Seattle’s robust network of surveillance cameras and wireless communication mesh is already well established in the city.

The project is being federally funded by the Department of Homeland Security to prevent and investigate instances of terrorism along Seattle’s port areas according to the SPD.

However, the counter-terrorism monitoring has many Seattle citizens concerned about their privacy, which may be warranted given Seattle’s propensity for secrecy on such matters in the past.

More on that later.

According to Assistant Police Chief Paul McDonagh, “on the homeland-security front, [the cameras will] monitor those people who are out for nefarious acts, monitor their behaviors,” but claims they will not look into residents’ houses.

However, as reported by the West Seattle Blog, some cameras were caught pointing inward, away from the coast line after first being put up. McDonagh insisted this was a mistake and that the cameras have been readjusted to face the waterfronts.

Little is known about the types of cameras being used and the software that goes along with them, and according to McDonagh, no public hearings are scheduled at this time.

A Freedom of Information Act request was made on Jan. 30 to find out details about the cameras, including purchase orders, maintenance contracts, owner’s manuals, data access procedures, data retention policies, etc.

However, the city’s proposal request and contract for the cameras and mesh wireless network were found available on the Seattle.gov website after a little digging.

The company contracted to do the work, Cascade Networks, Inc., is based out of Longview, Wash.

Its subsidiary Last Mile Gear will likely be providing the services, as it has a full listing of both video surveillance and mesh network equipment on its website.

It should be noted no facial recognition software is listed on the site, though it does provide license plate recognition software.

In his interview with the West Seattle Blog, McDonagh claimed the cameras are not capable of facial recognition or infrared.

Aside from face scanning, other technologies exist from companies like TrapWire that can combine license plate recognition with CCTV feed to provide detailed biometrics on individuals.

It is not a far leap to suspect such activities are occurring in Seattle, since they already have.

TrapWire operated a pilot program in Seattle and Washington D.C. starting in 2009 that was only revealed to the public in August of last year after WikiLeaks, with the aid of Anonymous, leaked emails from the private intelligence agency Stratfor.

According to The Guardian, “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.”

A Znet report explains how ordinary cameras can be combined with TrapWire software:

While ordinary CCTV cameras are often ‘passive’ and monitored by humans, TrapWire-connected cameras, such as ‘pan-tilt-zoom’ cameras, are able to track people, along with license plate readers, called Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) from place to place.

The surveillance once thought to be relatively passive is instead pre-emptive and sophisticated in its methods.

Indeed, TrapWire boasts on its website that its methodologies harness “a shift from damage mitigation to attack prevention.”

Sounds like pre-crime creepiness.

Until the FOIA is met with the full release of its requested documents, it cannot be ruled out that TrapWire or similar software from Cascade Networks is still involved in Seattle’s counter-terrorism surveillance network.

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