Private Security Contractors Try To Shut Down Journalist Using Legal Threats And Claims Of Harassment

from the plausible-deniability:-ur-doing-it-wrong dept

Post-Boston bombing, everyone’s talking about surveillance and privacy. Those doing most of the talking seem to think we need more of the former and less of the latter. And there’s no getting these legislators and law enforcement officials to shut up about it, either. It almost as if they believe repetition converts false presumptions into incontrovertible facts.

Ryan Gallagher, writing for Slate, finally found someone (actually, several of them) with affinities towards increased surveillance that not only don’t want to talk about the issue, but also don’t want Gallagher talking about it either.

Gallagher was putting together an article on the upcoming reopening of the Statue of Liberty after its extended post-Hurricane Sandy closure. More to the point, he was curious about the updated surveillance equipment (including state-of-the-art facial recognition software) that would be making its debut at the same time.

A few weeks ago, those involved seemed willing to discuss the new system and point out its impressive features.

In March, Statue of Liberty superintendent Dave Luchsinger told me that plans were underway to install an upgraded surveillance system in time for the reopening. “We are moving forward with the proposal that Total Recall has come up with,” he said, adding that “[new] systems are going in, and I know they are state of the art.”

But when Gallagher attempted to gather a few details about the new facial recognition software (FaceVACS, made by German firm Cognitec and deployed by surveillance contractor Total Recall Corp.), no one seemed willing to provide any clear answers.

“We do work with Cognitec, but right now because of what happened with Sandy it put a lot of different pilots that we are doing on hold,” Peter Millius, Total Recall’s director of business development, said in a phone call. “It’s still months away, and the facial recognition right now is not going to be part of this phase.” Then, he put me hold and came back a few minutes later with a different position—insisting that the face-recognition project had in fact been “vetoed” by the Park Police and adding that I was “not authorized” to write about it.

That’s a rather odd statement. Millius may not be authorized to talk about it, but I highly doubt private security contractors can claim a journalist is not authorized to write about it. They can react to what’s written via comments or statements, but telling a writer they can’t write about something pretty much guarantees it will be written about.

Millius’ bizarre “order” was followed up by an email from Cognitec’s marketing manager Elke Oberg. Oberg told Gallagher one day earlier that Cognitec’s software would be implemented at the Statue of Liberty. The email he received a day later contained both a denial… and a threat.

Now, Oberg had sent a letter ordering me to “refrain from publishing any information about the use of face recognition at the Statue of Liberty.” It said that I had “false information,” that the project had been “cancelled,” and that if I wrote about it, there would be “legal action.”

Gallagher also received a nearly identical email from Total Recall Inc., again warning him against publishing any information on the software’s on-again, off-again deployment. Even more bizarrely, Millius claimed he would pursue charges of harassment against Gallagher if he persisted in seeking answers to his questions. Representatives for the National Park Service also refused to confirm or deny any software installation.

There’s a one-way street in effect here and it’s being paved with discarded privacy and civil liberties. These security contractors (and their employers) want to gather as much info as they can, but when pressed for details on their software and devices they respond with diversionary tactics and threats.

The great irony here, of course, is that this is a story about a statue that stands to represent freedom and democracy in the modern world. Yet at the heart of it are corporations issuing crude threats in an attempt to stifle legitimate journalism—and by extension dictate what citizens can and cannot know about the potential use of contentious surveillance tools used to monitor them as they visit that very statue.

That’s the problem — one of many — with the growing surveillance “culture” in America. Lots of private corporations are landing lucrative government contracts to, in essence, spy on American citizens. These companies, and the legislators and law enforcement officials that support them, deploy more and more surveillance technology and expect US citizens to hand over their dwindling privacy without offering any more of a guarantee than a “you’re just going to have to trust us” statement. And yet, they provide example after example of how they cannot be trusted with this power.

Furthermore, should surveillance this sensitive really be handled by companies whose reaction to a few questions is to attempt to silence the questioner with legal threats and implausible statements about what he is or isn’t “authorized” to write about? What we certainly don’t need in this country is another opaque layer of “security” surrounding our public places, especially one created and serviced by two companies with some serious control issues.

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Companies: slate

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Comments on “Private Security Contractors Try To Shut Down Journalist Using Legal Threats And Claims Of Harassment”

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Anonymous Coward says:

‘What we certainly don’t need in this country is another opaque layer of “security”‘

oh how right you are. what is really needed is a lot more honesty and a whole lot of different people divulging the truth and being, well, honest. as it is, there are too many people in charge of taking away from the people as much as possible, using the most pathetic and ridiculous reasons imaginable. i have to wonder what these people will try to take away when there is nothing left to take, except life, that is and no one but themselves to take it from?

Kiwini says:


That first reply, by AC, hits the proverbial nail on its’ noggin.

And that first observation, ie: “It(‘s) almost as if they believe repetition converts false presumptions into incontrovertible facts.” should be no surprise… it’s the same tactic that Obama and the Greenies have been using for years, attempting to wear away the truth with an unending flood of “facts” that, for some unknown reason, are only the ones that support their own POV.

Some Other AC (profile) says:

Re: Yuppers

I will second TheLastCzarnian. This kind of misinformation is spread about by both sides of the political fence. Left, right, center, it does not matter. If it does not fit their agenda(read, corporate agenda) it will be spun to suit. Go on a different tangent and ask any career politician who is corporate sponsors are. Who “lobbies” the hardest or who backs their campaigns. Everyone of them will lie to you in the blink of an eye. It is time to stop this bipartisan bullshit and actually think about our country in an objective and clear manner. I see poll after poll show that even in states that lean one direction or the other, most people sit just to either side of the centrist viewpoint. However, you have extremes on both sides(although for me, the Conservatives tend to scream the loudest) that spout their Ideology and make mainstream news. Until and unless we as a people actually say enough is e-fucking-nough, we will continue to be trampled over and ignored in favor of money and power.
There is a saying. “Knowledge is power.” My response to this, is if knowledge is power, why are some of the most powerful people so ignorant.

Anonymous Coward says:

start chipping away at the bill of rights

when any of the elements we know of as the bill of rights starts being chipped away at then they are all at risk. When 5th amendment rights are denied when being forced to reveal computer passwords, when walls are built around what journalists can cover or see, when manhunts are conducted and the press is told to stay out for their safety (Boston) and not able to provide first hand reports when the 2nd amendment is being laughed at then we may as well become a state run state controlled no where land. The bill of rights was designed to protect against government intrusions into our lives. So when the second keystone of the bill of rights is pulled out, the rest of them will crumble, and don’t believe they wont. We are seeing the brick dust fall around the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

And there’s no getting these legislators and law enforcement officials to shut up about it, either. It almost as if they believe repetition converts false presumptions into incontrovertible facts.

It’s called The Big Lie, and it’s surprisingly effective. Heck, it even worked for the Nazis; if they can pull it off, anyone can!

Anonymous Coward says:

New Colossus, same as the old Colossus

Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door, and then use facial recognition technology to surreptitiously profile them and keep them under constant surveillance, because those lousy job-stealing foreigners are clearly potential terrorist suspects!

Austin (profile) says:

It's all fine and dandy until...

…until they catch a senator and his mistress eating a fancy supper (or worse) and the wife finds out. When that happens, one of two reactions will follow:

1) Congress will suddenly change its mind and this constant surveilence will be declared officially bad.

2) Congress will approve the next no-bid contract from the same company with no debate and we eventually end up with a corporate police state rather than the government police state we have now.

Sadly we have to hope for the former because it’s the lesser of two evils for all of us.

Well, except the 100 senators who have all the real power.

This is the problem with a representative republic: only the representatives have any actual power.

JarHead (profile) says:

There’s a layer of security called “security by obfuscation” which IMO still have a lion’s share in many security firm’s deployment strategy.

Have a friend in that business. I know well he worked hard to build good systems, and has many satisfied clients. However he still regard “security by obfuscation” as a major plus.

So, the reasons of those firms may not be nefarious. Misguided maybe, but the way they try to achieve/maintain it is certainly wrong. Even if it’s not an abuse of the law, if obfuscation they want, they sure have to meet/get acquainted with ms. Streisand.

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