Hidden Cameras in Streetlights

Both the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are hiding surveillance cameras in streetlights.

According to government procurement data, the DEA has paid a Houston, Texas company called Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC roughly $22,000 since June 2018 for "video recording and reproducing equipment." ICE paid out about $28,000 to Cowboy Streetlight Concealments over the same period of time.

It's unclear where the DEA and ICE streetlight cameras have been installed, or where the next deployments will take place. ICE offices in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have provided funding for recent acquisitions from Cowboy Streetlight Concealments; the DEA's most recent purchases were funded by the agency's Office of Investigative Technology, which is located in Lorton, Virginia.

Fifty thousand dollars doesn't buy a lot of streetlight surveillance cameras, so either this is a pilot program or there are a lot more procurements elsewhere that we don't know about.

Posted on November 16, 2018 at 6:02 AM • 21 Comments

Comments

eireoldeboyNovember 16, 2018 7:55 AM

My favorite streetlight story was one where some people in a public park were suspected of selling non-prescription items. The city attorney, a long-time friend, asked me for a recommendation. I asked two questions: Do you want to arrest anymore and how much do you want to spend? The answers were: No and as little as possible.

So, a phony camera with a blinking light was fixed to the top of an electical pole and a sign was put up advising passers-by that the area was under surveillance. The word "video" was purposely left out.

The camera cost about $35 and the sign about $25. So, the peddlers left the park in short order. I hope that the DEA got 300 phony cameras installed for the $ 22K.

JONovember 16, 2018 8:11 AM

@eireoldeboy

No, they paid that money to hire a consulting firm that told them to put out a fake story that all streetlights had hidden security cameras.

Joseph TXNovember 16, 2018 8:19 AM

The business address (included in the purchase orders) for "Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC" is a house in a Houston suburb.

I wonder how easy it'd be to create a company with all the highlights of FedGov preferences (US/veteran/woman/minority owned) which is just a drop-shipper in front of ebay/Alibaba.

vas pupNovember 16, 2018 8:54 AM

I guess real cameras and phony cameras are not mutually exclusive. E.g. in high profile jewelry store, you should have two sets: in plain sight phony cameras with blinking light which are suppose to be deactivated by low level robbers/intruders, and real hidden cameras which will record everything and transmit video in real time to secure server.
For higher security, I'd say two DIFFERENT companies should be involved in this: one (first) set up set of real cameras. That company could be less trusted because of suspicious connection (based on background check)to crime or law enforcement (set up by a person with former criminal history or former law enforcement agent - see Putin said there is know former KGB agent, same logic applied to former LEOs except when they were really wronged by their former employer without probable cause). You should expect that blueprint is going to be leaked to the hands of wrong folks sooner or later.
The second company (highly trusted - could we really trust anybody in current legal environment when best friends are snitching on you being caught on minor violation of law and threatened to go for many years (sorry months) to prison or 'sing' and/or 'compose'?). It could be foreign contractor at all which install second set of hidden cameras (hiding e.g. in lights - so when they do installation it could be concealed as electrical maintenance/replacement). Such redundancy will be justified by benefits.

WayneNovember 16, 2018 10:26 AM

I remember parking in a mall in El Paso, getting out, and having a police car do a slow crawl down the lane and seeing some strange gear on top of the roof - license plate cameras. Every time I go to Las Cruces, Phoenix, or El Paso I pass through Border Patrol check points and my car gets photographed and run against stolen license plate databases, and every time I think about getting one of those IR LED license plate frames that will theoretically overload those cameras. It would probably do the same to these, if they exist, and those new ones that are also theoretically being installed in speed monitoring signs that are also pretty prominent in New Mexico.

But TERRORISTS! And THINK OF THE CHILDREN!

I'm getting really tired of all this garbage.

HumdeeNovember 16, 2018 10:51 AM

In the USA, recent Supreme Court cases would suggest that this data collection is unconstitutional anyway. AFAIK no case has involved street light cameras but it is clear that long-term continuous monitoring of suspects is unacceptable. Because of this I tend to support the theory of @JO above.

Men in BlackNovember 16, 2018 11:16 AM

Even park rangers hide game cameras in the woods to make sure visitors pay their day use fees.

Cops get their jollies if they see a romantic couple, or if the lady says no and decides to press charges, or the guy takes a piss in the woods and they want to charge him with indecent exposure.

Spycam pervs are everywhere, but there's always some guise of security, so they cannot be charged with voyeurism or child pornography, if they are spying on women or children, rather than men.

TimothyNovember 16, 2018 12:27 PM

Fifty thousand dollars doesn't buy a lot of streetlight surveillance cameras, so either this is a pilot program or there are a lot more procurements elsewhere that we don't know about.

Is this considered problematic surveillance by the public or an area that does not have sufficiently communicated oversight?

The aims of the surveillance equipment were not disclosed by the co-owner of Cowboy Streetlight Concealments in the article. However with the purchasing agencies being the DEA and ICE, can we assume the surveillance has to do with drugs and international trafficking?

A DEA agent testified at a hearing earlier this year on the border and the opioid crisis. Reportedly there is an opioid epidemic pummeling America. From his testimony, the CDC reports that there were 64,000 overdose deaths in 2016, or approximately 174 a day. This is the leading injury-related cause of death in the U.S. surpassing deaths from firearms or car crashes. The DEA considers the Mexican Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) to be the greatest criminal drug threat to the U.S. perpetuating these activities.

He shares the enforcement efforts being taken by multiple agencies on a Heroin Fentanyl Task Force (HFTF). The agencies on the HFTF include the DEA, ICE, CPB, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) and is also supplemented by the FBI, DoD, the IC, and others.

Is the concern the risk of over-reaching or unlawful surveillance? It would be interesting to see a matrix that evaluates the risks vs. the effectiveness of such strategies. It is a turn-key sort of solution that could be used for multiple purposes. I am assuming the persons most at risk here are drug traffickers, but I am only assuming this based on a limited number of details.

GA ReaidentNovember 16, 2018 2:14 PM

A friend of the family is a Lineman for Georgia Power in the Atlanta area. It was at least 10 years ago when he was telling us about installing fake power transformers that are really cameras in areas with "known drug activity".

Clive RobinsonNovember 16, 2018 10:41 PM

@ ALL,

Texas company called Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC

In the UK you would not call your company "Cowboy" as it has significant negative connotations.

For instance calling someone who charges money for doing house repair / upgrade a "Cowboy builder" is in effect accusing them of being a criminal.

David WilsonNovember 17, 2018 4:17 AM

The smaller the camera, the higher the chances of it being real.

The larger the camera, the higher the chances of it being fake.

HeatherNovember 17, 2018 10:29 AM

It isn't fake news- the ACLU is currently involved in lawsuits over these streetlight cameras. You can read about it on the ACLU website.

Men in BlackNovember 17, 2018 1:55 PM

@Heather: It isn't fake news- the ACLU is currently involved in lawsuits over these streetlight cameras. You can read about it on the ACLU website.

If you were a boy and not a girl, you would simply shoot out the streetlight cameras with your .22 rifle. Problem solved. Much more productive and less damaging to society than an ACLU lawsuit.

ALNovember 18, 2018 8:48 AM

With stretched budgets, and understaffed police departments, I see technology like this extending the "cop on the beat". Police departments have shot spotter technology to detect gunfire.

Automation is coming to a lot of businesses. Law enforcement isn't going to be immune to this. There will be automation behind those cameras.

WayneNovember 18, 2018 11:51 AM

@GA Resident:

I worked for a large police department for nine years back in the '90s. Yep, we had one of those, ours was for specific house surveillance. The electric utility would set it up on whatever power pole we needed it on. They gave it to us, I don't remember how or why but it was an empty transformer casing that they'd cleaned out so it was safe.


@Not Wayne:

Soy? Can't stand the shite myself. Winker? You're a fan of Wink Martindale? Whatever floats your boat, I'm not much of a game show guy.

VolunteerNovember 21, 2018 1:38 PM

@Men in Black
This is one of the only places where I read comments. There's some informed people, occasionally something funny, and it's light on dumb shit. Your 'If you were a boy' shit is beneath this site and just lame. Listen till you can really add something.

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