Friday, May 15, 2020

Are You Being Watched By SirchVision Surveillance?

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?":

Portland police Detective Travis Fields suspected two auto shops in North Portland were paying cash for stolen cars and crushing them to sell for scrap metal, but he needed more evidence.
Fields asked an officer in the Drugs and Vice Division to plant video cameras on a utility pole across the street from the North Columbia Boulevard businesses to monitor what was going on.
Officer Christopher Watts ended up helping arrange for the installation of six cameras trained at the two businesses, three related homes and a residential street. They recorded 24 hours a day, seven days a week, supplying more than 6,000 hours of video from Sept. 3, 2013, through April 2014. The images helped police identify 110 stolen cars taken to the two businesses.
Now, the eight defendants charged with racketeering in what prosecutors dubbed a family-run scheme are asking a judge to throw out the evidence captured by the cameras. They contend the surveillance violated their privacy and amounts to an illegal search because police never got a warrant to put up the cameras. Defense lawyers also are asking the court to suppress wiretaps conducted later based partly on the video evidence.
If they're successful, the judge's ruling could unravel the state's case. His decision also could set a new standard in Oregon for deploying pole cameras and open the door for other legal challenges.
Portland police admitted in court that they never seek warrants to install pole cameras. Testimony over two days of hearings in March revealed little oversight or written documentation tracking their use.
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'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":

In what could be the first significant expansion of the Supreme Court’s finding in Carpenter v. United States, a federal district court in Massachusetts granted a motion to suppress evidence, ruling that police use of a “pole camera” represented a search under the Fourth Amendment. This ruling is an important signal of what may be to come for digital privacy rights and provides a necessary limitation on warrantless government video surveillance.
In United States v. Moore-Bush, the government placed a camera on a utility pole across the street from the house of a suspect in a criminal investigation. The camera was used for eight months to surveil the driveway and the front of the house; law enforcement officers were able to remotely pan and zoom the camera “so as to . . . read license plates” of those entering and exiting the premises. The government did not obtain a warrant to use the pole camera. Instead, law enforcement argued that the use of the camera did not constitute a search because police are allowed to monitor the comings and goings of individuals in public without a warrant.
The Supreme Court has continued to breathe vitality into the Fourth Amendment by adjusting for the reality of technologies that allow unprecedented government access and information collection.
However, last year, the Supreme Court blew a hole in the law enforcement argument that monitoring what a person does in public never requires a warrant.  It held in Carpenter that the government’s warrantless seizure of seven or more days of historical cell-site location information violated the Fourth Amendment. The case was heralded by privacy advocates (including CDT) as a significant constraint on the third-party doctrine, a legal principle holding that a person has “no legitimate expectation of privacy” in information voluntarily turned over to third parties. However, this case emphasizes a different facet of Carpenter, that a person “does not surrender all Fourth Amendment protection” by venturing into the public sphere, but instead retains a reasonable expectation of privacy “in the whole of their physical movements.” While previous First Circuit precedent in Bucci disregarded any potential expectation of privacy in “items or places . . . [exposed] to the public,” this court interpreted Carpenter as refuting this principle and approached the case as an issue of first impression.
The court cited three principles that “dictate the resolution” of the defendant’s motion to suppress the images that resulted from the warrantless pole camera surveillance. It drew two from concurring opinions in United States v. Jones, a 2012 case ruling that warrantless use of a GPS tracking device placed on a vehicle for 28 days was unconstitutional, and one from the majority decision in Carpenter. First, Justice Sotomayor’s concurrence in Jones suggested that the government’s “unrestrained power” to collect data that reveals private aspects of identity is susceptible to abuse. Second, the majority decision in Carpenter implied that technology allowing law enforcement officers to access and search large amounts of passively collected data may give police access to a category of information that is “otherwise unknowable.” Third, Justice Alito’s concurrence in Jones argued that while short-term monitoring of a person’s movements does not violate an individual’s expectation of privacy, “longer-term . . . monitoring in investigations of most offenses” does violate that expectation. When examined in conjunction with the “unique” nature of the pole camera in this case, particularly its capacity to be adjusted remotely and its ability to create a digitally searchable log, the court found that use of the camera allowed the government to piece together “intimate details of [the suspects’] life.”
As advances in technology continue to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor members of the public in and around their homes, the Fourth Amendment remains a bedrock of protection and a crucial safeguard against unrestrained surveillance by the government.
Since Carpenter, four federal district court cases (each out of circuit and from the Eastern District of Wisconsin) have declined to extend the Supreme Court’s reasoning to fixed cameras. Each video surveillance case declining to extend Carpenter relied on Justice Roberts’ emphasis in the majority opinion that the Court’s holding did not “call into question conventional surveillance techniques and tools, such as security cameras.” However, the Moore-Bush court differentiated the usage of a pole camera, holding that this camera was installed not to “guard against . . . crime” like a traditional security camera, but rather to investigate the comings and goings of suspects.  By using the camera only to keep track of those leaving and entering the property, the government violated the suspects’ objectively reasonable expectation of privacy in “their and their guests’ activities around the front of the house for a continuous eight-month period.”
This opinion may require law enforcement to alter their current investigative practices; however, several questions remain unanswered. The court emphasizes the length of surveillance (eight months), but what about the use of a pole camera for a shorter period of time? While this pole camera was used to observe a driveway and front of a house, what about persistent surveillance of a business? What about a pole camera at a multi-family apartment building? This court also focuses on the technical capabilities of the pole camera used, noting its ability to zoom and pan remotely and its creation of a searchable digital log. What about a camera that lacks any or all of these capabilities? These questions are unresolved and could impact warrantless police use of surveillance technology.
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'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.

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