Company Sells Surveillance Cameras Hidden In Tombstones, Threatens Websites For Talking About Its Tombstone Cameras

from the HOT-FIST-ON-TABLE-ACTION dept

Thanks to a FOIA request by Open the Government policy analyst Freddy Martinez, we now know someone’s trying to sell cops cameras they can hide in… gravestones?

A surveillance vendor that works with U.S. government agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, and ICE, is marketing spying capabilities to local police departments, including cameras that are hidden inside a tombstone, a baby car seat, and a vacuum cleaner.

The brochure highlights some of the capabilities on offer to law enforcement agencies, from the novel to the sometimes straight-up bizarre.

As Joseph Cox notes, the offerings from Special Services Group run a bit outside the expected assortment of light pole cams and surveillance-in-a-box kits. Starting after 90+ pages [PDF] of webinar announcements from Vigilant, the surveillance tech provider with a logo lifted from American currency, lists a variety of offerings, including this useful item which puts the “family” back in “crime family.”

If the criminals you’re tracking might find it a bit suspicious to see a child seat in car that never had one before, maybe they can be slyly observed by undercover janitors who follow them from room to room with a vacuum they never actually turn on.

And here’s the tombstone camera system, which suggests grave robbing is far more prevalent than I thought it was.

SSG also offers other surreptitious recording devices, like an alarm clock/radio that can be inserted into suspected perps’ hotel rooms and faux utility boxes that can be placed in non-conspicuous areas (provided no one notices the absence of conduit running to/from the mock box).

There’s also scarier stuff in there as well. In addition to a variety of super-small cameras that can be mounted damn near anywhere, there’s communication interception software that can apparently be implanted on suspects’ phones or used by undercover officers who’d rather carry a phone than wear a wire. For whatever reason, SSG recommends using Samsung phones, but notes helpfully that other Android phones may support the software.

Then there’s this: the most inconspicuous mic system yet, but one that looks uncomfortable, if not dangerous, for the person using it.

There’s also a faux registration tag that can be placed over the real registration tag on a vehicle’s license plate to emit trackable infrared pulses for up to 48 hours. If greater access to the vehicle is possible, the same thing can be accomplished by swapping out tail lamp bulbs for IR-flashing bulbs that allow cops to locate a vehicle using infrared or night-vision gear.

It’s all in there: RFID cloning, covert recovery of suspects’ PINs from alarm panels, etc., silent drills, door cutter kits, covert audio and video installation tools, and surveillance all-in-one solutions that can be moved easily from car to car to lower the risk of surveillance vehicles being burned by sitting in one place for too long.

Apparently, the release of this catalog was approved by the Irvine Police Department and its counsel. Despite that, SSG is handing out legal threats to everyone who’s published the document.

When Motherboard asked Special Services Group for comment, the company did not respond. Shortly later though, a lawyer representing the company wrote a strongly worded legal email, demanding Motherboard not report on the brochure. The lawyer claimed that the brochure was protected under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), a set of rules that regulates the export of munitions, as well as copyright.

It sent a similar legal threat to MuckRock, claiming the publication of the document would put law enforcement at risk and said “recent world events” (Cox speculates this refers to developments in Iran) justified its obviously-baseless legal threats. Anyway, the document is embedded below and will probably bring about World War III if you start at page 93 and continue scrolling. Enjoy!

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Companies: special services group, ssg

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Comments on “Company Sells Surveillance Cameras Hidden In Tombstones, Threatens Websites For Talking About Its Tombstone Cameras”

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49 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

So many uses that no one knows about, or is allowed to

And we are definitely certain that none of these will be used by by anyone other than law enforcement, with a properly applied for warrant, for legitimate purposes, and that no device would ever be sold to some nefarious person or group. Right?

And when these ‘undetectable’ surveillance products are inevitably discovered by the surveilled, and then destroyed, no one will be upset. Right?

Our trade secrets are so much more important than your constitutional rights, therefore by reading our brochure you have violated the NDA you haven’t signed but was implied, and enforceable.

Special Services Group makes some cute stuff, but never the less have their heads squarely up their asses.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I really don’t know why anyone, even law enforcement, would want cameras hidden in gravestones. Not only is that disrespectful of the dead, but how many criminals would they even catch? Aside from some people desecrating graves (which isn’t that common and it’s mostly people too dumb or drunk to notice regular security cameras), the only crime that involves a graveyard that I can think of is gravedigging, which is pretty unusual nowadays. Maybe they’re thinking of catching murderers, but who would secretly bury the body of someone they killed in a graveyard? If nothing else, the body’s going to be discovered by the people who are supposed to be digging graves sooner or later.

Khym Chanur (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

I know that in fiction murderers will visit the graves of their victims. If this happens in real life (or if police think it happens in real life) then putting a camera at the gravesite of a murder victim can tell you who’s visiting the gravesite when, without having to tie up an officer on a stakeout, and without the chance of the perp spotting the stakeout and staying away. And if the they include the optional audio recordings, they could get a recording of the perp apologizing for or gloating over their crime (as murderers do in fiction).

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

"I really don’t know why anyone, even law enforcement, would want cameras hidden in gravestones."

National security. After all, it’s important to have an early warning of the zombie apocalypse.

I’m not saying it’s a good excuse, but i can easily see Barr ordering a few thousand units for that purpose given that "being dead" isn’t, apparently, a good enough excuse for him to merit shutting a case down.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Anyway, the document is embedded below and will probably bring about World War III if you start at page 93 and continue scrolling. Enjoy!

So you are saying WW III will be fought entirely in comment sections, forums, and possibly millions of horribly spelled emails, with possible skirmishes in IRC, discord and skype?

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

So you are saying WW III will be fought entirely in comment sections, forums, and possibly millions of horribly spelled emails, with possible skirmishes in IRC, discord and skype?

No, he’s not suggesting that at all! That would be ridiculous.

Obviously there will be real battlefields involved, too. The worst fighting of all would undoubtedly break out in the Call of Duty voice servers.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
bhull242 (profile) says:

I highly doubt that a law governing exports of munitions covers publication by US journalistic outlets/blogs of information from a catalog of surveillance and security equipment (other than firearms), which are designed and sold by a US company, provided to US law enforcement and obtained by the publications via FOIA requests just because that law also happens to includes some provisions about copyright. I know Congress often slips into bills unrelated items, but I’m doubtful that this is a case where it’s that unrelated.

And while they probably were referring to copyright on the magazine, I like to pretend that they were asserting that these cameras and other surveillance/security equipment are munitions, just because it’s funnier.

Sure, it’d make no sense whatsoever, if only because the part about munitions only covers exports which clearly wouldn’t apply to a dispute between two US companies, one of which is selling to the US government, but I think it’s funny, and it’s not that much more ridiculous than what’s actually happening.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I want to preface this with fhe fact that I am explicitly not claiming any sort of expertise on the ITAR.

That said, (1) I do not believe it covers copyrights in any form, (2) the catalog would have to contain technical data such as blueprints to qualify as ITAR-controlled, and (3) even if that were the case, that company had better hope none of the cops that ever saw this catalog before weren’t full citizens of the USA, because the ITAR considers that an export to their home country. I’d love to see them bring that argument before the DOD – given that this entire catalog seems to be missing jurisdiction & classification markings, they’d be in a world of hurt.

This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Don’t be a sicko. If this person under the tombstone camera owed the government money, and if there is even one iota of a chance this person comes back to life, the government will be in a very good position to track this undead deadbeat down.

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Anonymous Coward says:

Samsung recommendation is probably Knox

The Samsung phone recommendation is probably because Knox is validated by the US federal government for securing confidential information. There’s certainly caveats to Knox and plenty of alternatives, of course, and it’d only make sense if they were recommending the fully locked down versions used by the federal government.

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