The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have placed a number of hidden surveillance cameras inside streetlights across the country, according to federal procurement documents.
As reported by Quartz, “It’s unclear where the DEA and ICE streetlight cameras have been installed, or where the next deployments will take place.” According to the government documents, the DEA has paid Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC, a Houston-based company, about $22,000 for recording equipment since June of this year. ICE has also paid the company roughly $28,000 during that same time period.
The documents also reveal that ICE offices in Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio have funded the recent equipment purchases from Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC. Funds for the DEA’s purchases came from the agency’s Office of Investigative Technology in Lorton, Virginia.
Cowboy Streetlight Concealments LLC is owned by Christie Crawford and her husband, a Houston police officer. Crawford discussed the nature of their business with Quartz but was not able to go into detail about the federal contracts.
“We do streetlight concealments and camera enclosures. 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. And that’s about all I can probably say.”
“I can tell you this—things are always being watched. 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.”
Quartz also reports that earlier this week, the DEA noted that the government intended to award a contract to Oregon-based company Obsidian Integration LLC for “concealments made to house network PTZ [Pan-Tilt-Zoom] camera, cellular modem, cellular compression device.”
In addition to using street lights to house surveillance cameras, the DEA has also deployed “covert surveillance cameras inside traffic barrels, a purpose-built product offered by a number of manufacturers,” as well as operating “a network of digital speed-display road signs that contain automated license plate reader technology within them.”
ACLU senior advocacy and policy counsel Chad Marlow issued a statement to Quartz, saying that local law enforcement has previously pushed for streetlight surveillance cameras.
“It basically has the ability to turn every streetlight into a surveillance device, which is very Orwellian to say the least. In most jurisdictions, the local police or department of public works are authorized to make these decisions unilaterally and in secret. There’s no public debate or oversight.”
This surveillance revelation occurs as both the DEA and ICE are facing increasing criticism for their actions under the Trump administration. Gizmodo reports the ACLU sued ICE earlier this year, claiming that the agency tries to force families into accepting deportation. ICE has been criticized for its role in President Trump’s policy of separating immigrant children from their parents at the border. Last year, the DEA’s acting chief Chuck Rosenberg resigned, reportedly due to the president’s charge to be “rough” with criminal suspects.