The US Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies have hidden an unknown number of cameras in American streetlights. We don’t know where they’ve been installed, where they’ll be installed next or which specific cases they have been used on.
We do know that the DEA and ICE have spent $22,000 and $28,000 respectively on products supplied by Cowboy Streetlight Concealment LLC, because that information is in government procurement data.
The DEA is also known to have placed cameras inside traffic barrels. They’ve also put out a solicitation for a tilt-and-zoom concealed camera system.
It’s the tip of an iceberg: shady law enforcement, shady tech, and a big grey area of legality, not to say morality.
Chad Marlow, senior advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties union, told Quartz:
It basically has the ability to turn every streetlight into a surveillance device, which is very Orwellian to say the least.
In most jurisdictions, the local police or department of public works are authorized to make these decisions unilaterally and in ,’ Marlow expanded. ‘There’s no public debate or oversight.
Obviously the missing ingredient that would truly weaponize this level of constant surveillance is facial recognition technology. But don’t worry: Amazon is here with that.
In leaked emails acquired by the Washington Post (soft paywall), an Amazon official communicated with ICE regarding ‘“Rekognition Video tagging/analysis” that could possibly allow ICE to identify people’s faces from afar — a type of technology immigration officials have voiced interest in for its potential enforcement use on the southern border.’
We are ready and willing to support the vital (Homeland Security Investigations) mission,
the same Amazon official clarified.
Cowboy Streetlight Concealment LLC’s co-owner Christie Crawford (her co-owner is her husband, a Houston cop) has the last word: ‘I can tell you this—things are always being watched. 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.’
‘The DEA and ICE are hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights,’ Justin Rohrlich and Dave Gershgorn, Quartz