1) From Maxine Bernstein's 1-9-19 OregonLive report entitled "Police Cameras on Power Poles: Illegal 'Unblinking Eyes' or Smart Tricks of the Trade?":
To read Bernstein's entire article, click HERE.
2) From NBC-2's 3-20-16 report entitled "Are You Being Watched and Don't Even Know It?":
A Lehigh Acres resident was suspicious about an electric box that was installed on a power pole outside his home. It didn't look like anything else in the neighborhood, and it seemed to be pointing toward his house.
Armed with a lengthy pole with his cell phone attached to one end, he lifted his phone up to get a peek at what was inside the box.
When he looked at the video, it was unmistakable. A camera was peering out from the other side of black, tinted glass.
The man told us he called the Lee County Sheriff's Office to complain, and not long after, a work crew with a bucket truck was on his street taking down the electric box with the camera inside.
They wouldn't tell him what the box or camera were for.
Unlike cameras installed in downtown Fort Myers or other high traffic areas, this camera was in a primarily residential community. But it turns out this wasn't the only similar box in Lehigh Acres.
We were able to find another identical electric box installed in a different neighborhood.
Homeowners in the area were mostly unaware of the camera except for one neighbor.
"The shape and everything lead me to think it was a camera," Mike Frisby said.
Mike and Carol Frisby live just a few houses down from where the camera was installed. Mike says he always suspected it was a camera when he saw it go up.
"After that, I said, 'Good,' and just forgot about it," Mike said.
Carol feels a little differently.
"Mixed emotions really," she said.
She's used to seeing LCSO cars on her street responding to problems, but she wonders why the agency didn't tell neighbors about the camera.
"We do have some problems around here, so I do feel a little safer," Carol said. "A little violated but much safer."
We reached out to the Lee County Sheriff's Office for an interview, but our request was declined.
In an email, a spokesperson for the sheriff's office wrote:
"We are not at liberty to discuss any special investigative techniques or tactics that we employ. It would be ludicrous to comment on our capabilities and inform the criminal element just how we operate. We follow state laws that govern search and seizure, as well as laws handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States."
While LCSO would not confirm the cameras were theirs, the electric box is similar to other surveillance tools easily found online.
It also looks similar to fake electric boxes installed in a Naples community that turned out to be surveillance cameras. Residents in that neighborhood say they were told the boxes would help boost cell reception.
A homeowner living near the electric box in Lehigh Acres, who did not want to be identified, says she was also told the box was there to improve cell reception and might be moved in a few months.
By Tuesday morning, the electric box in Lehigh Acres was taken down.
It's not uncommon for law enforcement to conceal these cameras from the public, according to Slade Gurr, CEO of Covert Law Enforcement, which sells similar surveillance technology.
"It really defeats the purpose to tell someone that there will be a surveillance system available," Gurr said.
He says these covert cameras have become increasingly helpful to law enforcement.
"Officers today using technology are able to do things that in the past it might have taken four or five officers and several days to conduct the type of investigations that we're able to do," Gurr said.
He also believes that most law enforcement agencies are not using covert cameras for general surveillance of the public but for specific investigations.
"If it's deployed in a covert nature, there's typically a specific reason or specific type of investigation that is being conducted," Gurr said.
But ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon is calling foul.
"That is a bunch of bologna. This is not a law enforcement tactic," he said.
Simon says law enforcement agencies should provide proof that surveillance cameras are making a difference.
"Let's do a study. Did they accomplish their purpose?" Simon asked.
But more important to Simon is whether there are policies in place to prevent potential abuse of surveillance cameras by law enforcement.
To read the entire NBC-2 report, click HERE.
3) From John T. Floyd's 2-24-16 blog post entitled "Beware of the Government Eye on the Utility Pole":
Rocky Joe Houston, and his brother Leon, do not like the government, and in particular do not like the police.
In May 2006 the brothers shot and killed Roane County Deputy Bill Jones and his ride-along friend Mike Brown, a former law enforcement officer, when the two tried to serve an arrest warrant on the brothers at their farm near Kingston, Tennessee.
Brothers Acquitted on Killings of Two Deputies
The brothers were arrested and charged with murder. Their first two trials ended after mistrials were declared. A third jury acquitted them because the prosecution could not prove the brothers fired the first shots at Jones and Brown. The brothers had steadfastly maintained they shot the deputy and the ride-along in self-defense; that the two men came to their farm with a specific intent to kill the brothers.
In August 2012, the Houston brothers drew national media scrutiny and the outrage of local law enforcement after they erected a billboard just outside their rural property with graphic crime scene photos of the dead bodies of Jones and Brown. They told the local media that the billboard was a warning to the “outside world” that corrupt police and government officials were out to kill them.
Brothers Challenge Government
“This ain’t nothing complicated,” Rocky Joe Houston told the Knoxville News Sentinel. “It’s real simple. We fear for our lives and our family lives, and we will continue to defend our lives.”
It didn’t take long before the Roane County Sheriff’s Department notified the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (“ATF”) that Rocky Joe was a convicted felon who possessed weapons at his residence.
Government Steps up Investigation
In a February 8, 2016 opinion, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals described Houston’s residence as being part of the “Houston family farm.”
There were three residences on the farm. A red brick building in which Rocky Joe resided and a trailer in which Leon resided. Rocky Joe’s adult daughter is the only person who actually lived in the family “farmhouse.”
There were no fences or artificial barriers around the farm, although blue tarps blocked the view of Leon’s trailer doors while foliage blocked the views of Rocky Joe’s house.
It was evident the Houston family wanted privacy from the outside world. Besides the graphic billboard, there were other “hand-painted signs critical of government officials” posted on the farm, according to the Sixth Circuit.
Acting on the information supplied by the local sheriff’s department, the ATF initiated a surveillance of the Houston family farm and quickly realized their vehicles “[stuck] out like a sore thumb.”
Government Installs Camera on Utility Pole
The federal agents regrouped to consider another strategy.
ATF agents contacted the local utility company and instructed the company to install a “surveillance camera” on a public utility pole “located roughly 200 yards from Leon’s trailer,” the appeals court reported. The camera was installed on October 9, 2012. The agents had no warrant for its installation.
The Sixth Circuit pointed out that “the camera broadcasted its recordings via an encrypted signal to an IP address accessed through a log-in and password. The camera could move left and right and had a zoom function. The ATF agents trained the camera primarily on Leon’s trailer and a nearby bar because they understood that [Rocky Joe] spent most of his time in and around the trailer and occasionally slept there.”
Government Argues They Were in Public
The ATF justified this “warrantless surveillance” by saying the camera captured only what the agents would have seen had they driven down the public roads surrounding the Houston farm.
The ATF maintained this warrantless surveillance over the next ten weeks (from October 10 to December 19).
Similar Case from Court of Appeals Causes Concern
On December 19, 2012, in an unrelated case, the Sixth Circuit handed down a decision which expressed “some misgivings about a rule that would allow the government to conduct long-term video surveillance of a person’s backyard without a warrant. Few people, it seems, would expect that the government can constantly film their backyard for over three weeks using a secret camera that can pan and zoom and stream a live image to government agents.”
The Sixth Circuit followed the lead of a 1987 Fifth Circuit decision that, in dicta, stated using a pole camera to view curtilage over a 10-foot fence constitutes a Fourth Amendment search, and that such surveillance “provokes an immediate negative visceral reaction.”
To read Floyd's entire blog post, click HERE.
4) From Sirchie.com's official ballyhoo:
Our Utility Pole Camera Systems enables 24-hour surveillance to easily be placed anywhere there’s a utility pole. If you have a trouble spot, an event or just want to keep an eye on an area, our rugged Utility Pole Cameras let you set up surveillance using available utility poles and power supply. Choose a disguised covert enclosure or a “Police” labeled overt enclosure. It is easy to attach and plug into the utility pole power supply. This is a self-contained system that includes a high-res PTZ camera that enables large areas to be monitored with a single camera, day and night, and includes an on-board recorder and control computer. It can be integrated with other cameras or with VMS (Video Management Software.) It’s an easy to deploy solution that’s quick to install and can provide permanent ongoing surveillance.
To learn more about SirchVision's "Utility Pole Camera Systems," simply click HERE.
5) From Evan Ringel's 7-31-19 Center for Democracy & Technology blog post entitled "Digital is Different: 'Pole Camera' Ruling Demonstrates Evolving Fourth Amendment Rights":
To read Ringel's entire article, click HERE.
6) From David Kravets' 6-15-16 Ars Technica article entitled "FBI Says Utility Pole Surveillance Cam Locations Must Be Kept Secret":
The US Federal Bureau of Investigation has successfully convinced a federal judge to block the disclosure of where the bureau has attached surveillance cams on Seattle utility poles. The decision Monday stopping Seattle City Light from divulging the information was expected, as claims of national security tend to trump the public's right to know.
However, this privacy dispute highlights a powerful and clandestine tool the authorities are employing across the country to snoop on the public—sometimes with warrants, sometimes without. Just last month, for example, this powerful surveillance measure—which sometimes allows the authorities to control the camera's focus point remotely—helped crack a sex trafficking ring in suburban Chicago.
Meanwhile, in stopping the release of the Seattle surveillance cam location information—in a public records act case request brought by activist Phil Mocek—US District Judge Richard Jones agreed (PDF) with the FBI's contention that releasing the data would harm national security.
"If the Protected Information is released, the United States will not be able to obtain its return; the confidentiality of the Protected Information will be destroyed, and the recipients will be free to publish it or post the sensitive information wherever they choose, including on the Internet, where it would harm important federal law enforcement operational interests as well as the personal privacy of innocent third parties," Jones ruled.
Peter Winn, assistant US attorney in Seattle, won the injunction after telling Judge Jones that "the FBI’s use of the pole camera technique is a powerful tool in FBI investigations of criminal violations and national security threats. Disclosure of even minor details about them may cause jeopardy to important federal interests because, much like a jigsaw puzzle, each detail may aid adversaries in piecing together information about the capabilities, limitations, and circumstances of equipment’s use, and would allow law enforcement subjects, or national security adversaries, to accumulate information and draw conclusions about the FBI’s use of this technology, in order to evade effective, lawful investigation by the FBI" (PDF).
The deployment of such video cameras appears to be widespread. What's more, the Seattle authorities aren't saying whether they have obtained court warrants to install the surveillance cams. And the law on the matter is murky at best.
To read Kravets' entire article, click HERE.
7) From WPXI.com's 10-24-17 article entitled "Power Company Puts Stop to Surveillance Camera Installation":
Police say cameras mounted on utility poles help prevent crime, but West Penn Power doesn't want the cameras installed anymore.
There's a lot of stuff that goes up on poles that isn't always authorized.
Penn Power told Channel 11 there have even been cases where criminals have put up cameras on poles to watch for police. Now, the utility wants to put safety regulations in place to make sure they know exactly what is being installed.
A letter Crystalline Technology and other companies are receiving from West Penn Power is telling them they need to stop putting up surveillance cameras on utility poles until official safety procedures are put in place.
"Because there's a lot of things up on these poles that if you come in contact with, an energized conductor, it can kill you. Let's just be honest about it,” Todd Meyers, spokesperson for West Penn Power, said.
Meyers told Channel 11 letters were sent out to all municipal areas the utility company serves. The increase in crime cameras is what prompted the crackdown.
The power company is now working on spelling out specific safety guidelines before more cameras can be put up.
"It’s unfortunate we can't put cameras up anywhere-Buildings, houses, whatever the case may be. But many times, the local utility pole that's out front is right on the street and has the best vantage point,” Ron Mozer, Crystalline Technology president, said.
Mozer gave us a closer look at a few of the cameras monitoring the Mon Valley area.
"We link all of these cameras back to the police department,” Mozer said.
To read the entire article, click HERE.