U.S. federal enforcement agencies deploying surveillance cameras hidden in streetlights

Federal contracting documents have revealed that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have hidden surveillance cameras inside streetlights around the country, Quartz reports.

Texas-based company Cowboy Streetlight Concealments has received about $50,000 from the DEA and ICE since June, 2018 for “video recording and reproducing equipment.” The funding has come from ICE offices in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio, and the DEA’s purchase was authorized by the Office of Investigative Technology in Lorton, Virginia, but where the cameras have been installed, or where they will be installed is unknown.

Cowboy Streetlight Concealments is owned by Christie Crawford and her husband, who is a Houston police officer. Crawford told Quartz she is not able to provide details on federal contracts.

“We do streetlight concealments and camera enclosures,” says Crawford. “Basically, there’s businesses out there that will build concealments for the government and that’s what we do. They specify what’s best for them, and we make it. And that’s about all I can probably say.”

“I can tell you this—things are always being watched,” she added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re driving down the street or visiting a friend, if government or law enforcement has a reason to set up surveillance, there’s great technology out there to do it.”

A company called Obsidian Integration is also expected to receive a contract with the DEA to set up concealed network PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) cameras, Quartz reports. Details on the nature of the concealment are not provided, but Quartz notes that the DEA is known to have placed surveillance cameras in traffic barrels, in addition to streetlights and speed-display road signs equipped with license plate reading technology.

“It basically has the ability to turn every streetlight into a surveillance device, which is very Orwellian to say the least,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Senior Advocacy and Policy Counsel Chad Marlow told Quartz. “In most jurisdictions, the local police or department of public works are authorized to make these decisions unilaterally and in secret. There’s no public debate or oversight.”

Quartz also notes that emails recently reported by the Project on Government Oversight show Amazon is pitching its facial recognition technology to the Department of Homeland Services (DHS), the parent agency of ICE. The ACLU responded to the disclosure of the emails by demanding that DHS disclose any plans it has to use facial recognition software.

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