Emails From License Plate Reader Company Hack Show Lobbyists Writing Legislation And Handing Out Talking Points To Congressional Reps

from the hooray-for-representative-republics! dept

Lee Fang of The Intercept has dug into the cache of internal license plate reader manufacturer documents dumped on the web earlier this year. In addition to hundreds of images of drivers and their vehicles passing through border checkpoints, the files also contained emails from Perceptics (the LPR manufacturer targeted by hackers) to Congressional reps, reminding them to hit their marks at the next Congressional hearing.

In April 2018, during an appropriations committee hearing, the Tennessee Republican took a more subdued and technical approach to immigration issues when quizzing then-Customs and Border Protection chief Kevin McAleenan. [Rep. Chuck] Fleischmann, looking down to read from a paper in front of him, wanted to know if McAleenan was on schedule to implement an upgrade of license plate reader technology at the border, as mandated by a previous appropriations bill.

McAleenan thanked the committee for its support and pledged continued work to upgrade LPR technology along the border.

A few days after the exchange, a lobbyist representing Perceptics, a tech company that sold state-of-the-art LPR cameras and technology to the government, emailed her team to confirm that Fleischmann had “asked about CBP’s plan to modernize its LPRs as we asked his office to do,” along with a link to a video clip of the hearing.

There’s no element of surprise here. There will be no gasps of disbelief. About the only thing we can do is shake our heads at how willingly our public representatives will follow stage direction from corporations, especially when the talking points are in the interest of subjecting more people — many of them US citizens — to more surveillance.

It’s amusing when a social media influencer accidentally posts some paid content from a sponsor/advertiser without changing a single word of the sales pitch. It’s not nearly as funny when a Congressional rep reads directly from a company’s email, demanding to know whether or not the CBP would be spending more LPR money in the near future.

Ultimately, this didn’t work out for Perceptics. Not because Congressional reps decided they wouldn’t be unofficial spokespeople for a number of corporate interests. The only reason Perceptics was dumped by the CBP was because it couldn’t keep its information secure — information that included its pointed conversations with legislators.

Other emails show Perceptics’ lobbying firm, Ferox Strategies, assuring its client that both versions of competing immigration bills contained authorization for $125 million in “LPR modernization funds.” The language in both bills appears to have come directly from Perceptics. Neither of these versions survived the 2018 legislative session, but Perceptics continued to press for preferential treatment. The emails say nice things about “open, competitive bid processes” but also make the point that cameras installed by Perceptics nearly a decade ago were in desperate need of updating. Additional emails show Perceptics’ lobbyist firm had Texas Rep. John Cornyn on tap for functions, so long as lobbyists were willing to drop a little money in his coffers.

Once again, nothing truly surprising here other than the fact we actually have access to the emails. Of course, this is where the Freedom of Information Act fails to produce accountability. Congressional reps are exempt from the law. But they can’t prevent data exfiltration. They can only hope to contain it.

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Comments on “Emails From License Plate Reader Company Hack Show Lobbyists Writing Legislation And Handing Out Talking Points To Congressional Reps”

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bob says:


Isn’t it sad/alarming that this happens so casually by reps? Are we just too accustomed to this behavior or is it because we don’t believe any negative repercussions will result for the congress members that we are apathetic to this news?

I can only say that I assumed crap like this happens and that probably nothing will change because of this new into/evidence. However I am a little surprised at how blatantly they show how corrupted they are.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sounds like a very bad idea to me and you appear to be intentionally confused.

Remember when Boehner had to admit his handing out of checks prior to a vote was wrong? Do you think that was wrong?

How about throwing a snowball on the congressional floor during session? Was a good idea also?

These guys have a difficult job and they are allowed to hire staff, why do they need industrial mouth pieces?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

As bad as it seems that Rep Fleischmann read directly from the corporate talking points, at least the corporation in question is headquartered in his district so it does make a certain amount of sense that he would be championing their business.

Double plus bonus for him that it makes campaign contributions more likely and burnishes his credentials on border "security". Bad for the rest of us, though.

bob says:

Re: Re: Re:6 Re:

In England I think each candidate is given a fixed amount to campaign with.

One thing I wish though is that campaigning would be restricted to a few months before election day. Then theoretically the politicians would concentrate on their jobs the rest of their term instead of campaigning mere days after winning an election.

Anonymous Coward says:

One would think that corruption is illegal, and in addition that our representatives recognize the fact that what they are doing is indeed corrupt. But that would be in a rational world that we do not live in, what we have here is bizarro land and the crooks have become complacent in their creation of coverups.

Wendy Cockcroft (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It doesn’t help that partisan enablers will rush to defend it when you call it out, often resorting to whataboutism to shut down discussion. We need to be both willing and able to hold these people to account. Since we’re not we end up calling for violence when a calm and measured response is the better way.

Anonymous Coward says:

The trouble with Automated plate readers is that anyone can build their own. I even saw a video somewhere saying how to turn a Tesla into an auomated plate reader.

That is one reason you want to get one of these frames with concealed infra red LEDs that prevent any camera from seeing your license plate.

The plate can still be seen with the naked eye, but the camera will not see it.

That is a legal loophole in hiding your plate from cameras. As long as a cop can see it out his windshield with his naked eye, you are not breaking any laws.

This is differnet than physical license plate covers you are not altering the plate itself.

Anonymous Coward says:

As Long as we keep allowing corporations to have free speech rights we can’t pass any laws requiring them to not lie nor impose severely crippling penalties for doing so. Until we do cleaning up government from the corruption that money in politics brings is pretty much impossible. Another thing is legislators giving themselves exemption from the laws they write. Party politics prevent both so the nation rots from its head.

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