With just a few keystrokes, anyone can peer behind the bars and fences of American detainment camps at Guantanamo Bay. A few more taps on the keyboard will yield images from military bases in Afghanistan and from some of the Canadian military’s more sensitive areas.
These are the kinds of images the public doesn’t usually get to see.
But a Victoria company breaking into the defence and security business has created a new application that’s made it possible to view images from behind some of the world’s most secure locations by aggregating social media feeds based on geo-mapping technology.
It’s a new perspective for most people and, in pulling together this kind of information, Echosec has identified a growing problem defence departments and countries face over the explosion of social media use.
Although Echosec – a company recently spun out of Victoria software developer Cloverpoint – has been around less than two months, it is already hearing from security organizations around the world interested in the technology and the solution to a growing problem.
“Word is getting out,” said Echosec CEO Karl Swannie, who last week spoke to the head of one country’s counter-terrorism department and the head of another’s gang task force.
They and similar organizations are having trouble getting their heads around the sheer volume of images and information appearing online through social media feeds – images, status updates and Tweets – that offer a glimpse into what’s happening in “secure” locations.
Swannie said that while many naval bases, combat command centres and detainment camps require employees and those on their premises to sign non-disclosure or confidentiality agreements, that hasn’t stopped people from posting information online about the sites.
According to Echosec’s chief technology officer, James Fernandes, the U.S. military has been trying, with little success, to crack down on the use of social media for years.
During a demonstration, Swannie scrolled through images from the front lines of Afghanistan, behind Guantanamo prison walls and of work being done on submarines at CFB Esquimalt.
“When you show people stuff like this, it’s like showing a gas leak ... they have a duty to clean it up,” he said. “It’s something they want to clean up. They just weren’t aware that it was there.”
Echosec is making its technology public as it begins raising capital for the next phase of its development.
Swannie said the company has held back because it felt there was a duty to let organizations like the Canadian military know they had a security problem before Echosec started selling its technology internationally.
Echosec is a simple concept. On a digital map, the user draws a boundary and the technology will start aggregating social media feeds from within that zone. A page below the map, which is dotted by social media icons, starts listing the social media posts.
The demonstration site, which is now live and public (demo.echosec.net), pulls from five social media feeds (Twitter, Flickr, Instagram, Picasa and Foursquare) and is based on what’s been posted up to that moment.
The version being developed for the defence and security industries and corporations can be set up for up to 480 different media feeds and will continually update.
“It’s important to note all of this stuff is public,” said Swannie. “We haven’t broken their non- disclosure agreements. They have. We have just happened to aggregate it all in one spot.”
Defence and security applications for the technology may be obvious, and it doesn’t take much imagination to consider what a hostile nation could do with the kinds of sensitive material made available.
But Echosec also has commercial applications. Companies can monitor productivity and safety to ensure employees are not posting images and information that could be detrimental. The tool can also be used for direct marketing because companies can use it to draw a boundary map in an area and send offers to all those who have checked in or engaged in social media within that zone.
In a business case put together for Fort McMurray, Echosec found images of people sleeping on the job, hiding, pictures from within security offices, employees being photographed apparently using drugs and images of equipment crashing.
“There’s just a lot of stuff [a company] wouldn’t want to share,” said Swannie.
He said Echosec will offer a server for large corporations and defence departments that will fit within its IT structures and allow the organizations to monitor the social media feeds.
“Then whenever people post something that breaks a non- disclosure agreement or confidentiality agreement they can act.”
That could mean termination or simply having that employee take down the image or information posted.
Fernandes added that there is also an application for law enforcement.
“Police get a 9-1-1 call, [and] they can quickly draw a geo-fence around that area,” he said, noting that could give them images from the scene and potential witnesses.
In addition, people looking for a great restaurant, good shopping or a venue for a night out can specify the area and check the social media feeds for tips.