According to Quartz, the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have an undisclosed amount of surveillance cameras hidden inside streetlights throughout the country.
Last week, the DEA issued a call for “concealments made to house network PTZ [Pan-Tilt-Zoom] camera, cellular modem, cellular compression device.” Currently, it’s unknown where the DEA and ICE have asked to have those cameras installed, or where future deployments will be.
On top of streetlights, Quartz said that the DEA has also placed surveillance cameras inside traffic barrels; the DEA itself also operates a network of digital speed-display road signs with automated license plate reader technology inside of them. Each organization has also hired multiple tech companies to install these solutions, including Cowboy Streetlight Concealments, Obsidian Integration, and others.
“We do streetlight concealments and camera enclosures,” Christie Crawford, co-owner of Cowboy Streetlight Concealments, told Quartz. “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.”
While the past year has been fraught with issues regarding consumers’ privacy and the feeling of betrayal from large tech companies, it’s not stopping the government from surveying what people are up to. Even integrators and other tech companies contracted to install surveillance solutions know that.
“I can tell you this—things are always being watched,” Crawford told Quartz. “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.”
For those who don’t like to be watched by the government, it looks like things might get more transparent. This is especially the case as technology improves. “The impact of surveillance cameras will increase as the development of facial recognition algorithms become more commonplace among law enforcement agencies,” Quartz reported. For example, Amazon has been working on cameras operated by the US Department of Homeland Security with facial recognition.
And, as technology continues to advance, end users will still have minimal input when it comes to privacy. For now, it appears they will have to trust the government is using its surveillance technology for good, not evil.
“In most jurisdictions, the local police or department of public works are authorized to make these decisions unilaterally and in secret,” Chad Marlow, a senior advocacy and policy counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union, told Quartz. “There’s no public debate or oversight.”