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!

Filed Under: 1st amendment, export regulations, free speech, hidden cameras, itar, nda, secrecy, surveillance, threats, tombstone cameras, weapons
Companies: special services group, ssg


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 9:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 10:33am

    Good to know. I'll be sure to wear a mask when I shit on Mitch McConnell's and Rudy Giuliani"s graves.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      bhull242 (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:15am

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Khym Chanur (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:33am

        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).

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 16 Jan 2020 @ 9:04am

        Re: Re:

        Damn, you guys are clueless. It's for gathering intel at mob funerals, etc.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Jan 2020 @ 1:14am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 10:49am

    The tombstone camera is for people who confess at gravesites.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 10:55am

    These tombstone cameras are networked to Ghostbusters, Inc.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:03am

    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?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 4:06pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    bhull242 (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:09am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:11am

    Guessing the head of this company wanted some upskirt shots of people visiting their childrens graves to masturbate over late?

    that would explain the tombcam

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 1:05pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:27am

    Who Ya Gonna Call?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Ron Currier (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:45am

    ITAR

    Don't forget that encryption software was classified as a munition under ITAR for years in the US.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 12:00pm

      Re: ITAR

      That was the actual software, not a listing of software available in the US. The latter was and remains perfectly legal to export.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Tim R (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 12:11pm

    The IP Baby Seat comes in a variety of custom kits, including our self-contained "All-in-one" kit.

    Does that mean it includes the baby?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Norahc (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 12:19pm

    So glad that our government won't let a little thing like a suspect being dead keep it from being under surveillance 24/7.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    bobob, 15 Jan 2020 @ 12:47pm

    At least the ICE, CPB, etc., employees who monitor the tombstone cameras can't complain about being overworked.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 1:08pm

      Re:

      Oh they will complain.. I'm dead tired. I'm cold. I'm parched.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 17 Jan 2020 @ 1:21am

        Re: Re:

        "Oh they will complain.. I'm dead tired. I'm cold. I'm parched."

        Until they're forced to act against a miscreant caught on tombstone camera.

        Cop: "...can and will be used against you, do you understand these rights?"
        Handcuffed suspect: "Brrraaaaiiinnss...!!"

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 1:12pm

    Huh. I wonder how Shop-Vac® Corporation feels about that. I think there is possible consumer confusion there.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That Anonymous Coward (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 5:32pm

    People , people who threaten to sue people....
    Are the DUMBBBBBBBBBBBBEST people in the world....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Norahc (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 5:45pm

      Re:

      I beg to differ...elected people top that list, although a fair number of them make it on both lists.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 Jan 2020 @ 7:03pm

      Re:

      I threatened to sue my bank after they shredded my bankcard I forgot to remove from the atm a week before, creating extreme trouble for me. They laughed in my face.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 15 Jan 2020 @ 6:25pm

    Could it be???
    The Trump investigations into illegal voting have led to monitoring the dead? I heard about dead people voting, but ... lol

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Three Men In A Boat (profile), 15 Jan 2020 @ 11:49pm

    Tombstone cam

    Dead drop? Drop dead!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    yadavlaw (profile), 16 Jan 2020 @ 11:02am

    Child Custody Lawyers in North West Delhi | Matrimonial Disputes

    We help clients to determine the best way to get a child custody & Matrimonial Disputes that is good for the family. Child Custody Law, Matrimonial Disputes Lawyer Services in Delhi.

    https://www.yadavlawassociates.com/matrimonial-disputes-child-custody

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Jan 2020 @ 7:15am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Poe Toast, 19 Jan 2020 @ 11:46am

    Obviously, dead drops are now passe’, because only the livingcan read the messages...unless you are Edgar Allen poe....

    Mysterious Poe Toaster, and 101 Uses for the Tombstone Cam:

    https://www.thevintagenews.com/2018/09/09/poe-toaster-unknown/

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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