Article Image

IPFS News Link • Surveillance

War Zone Surveillance Technology Is Hitting American Streets

•, Byron Tau

Big Brother isn't just watching you: He's using your cell phone, smartwatch, wireless earbuds, car entertainment systems and license plates to track your location in real time.

Contracting records and notes from local government meetings obtained by NOTUS show that federal and state Homeland Security grants allow local law enforcement agencies to surveil American citizens with technology more commonly found in war zones and foreign espionage operations.

At least two Texas communities along the U.S.-Mexico border have purchased a product called "TraffiCatch," which collects the unique wireless and Bluetooth signals emitted by nearly all modern electronics to identify devices and track their movements. The product is also listed in a federal supply catalog run by the U.S. government's General Services Administration, which negotiates prices and contracts for federal agencies.

"TraffiCatch is unique for the following reasons: ability to detect in-vehicle wireless signals [and] merge such signals with the vehicle license plate," wrote Jenoptik, the Germany-based manufacturer, in a contracting solicitation obtained by NOTUS under Texas public records law.

In another bid to win a contract from a public consortium that services Texas school districts, Jenoptik describes TraffiCatch as a "wireless device detection" system that "records wireless devices Wifi, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy signal identifiers that come within range of the device to record gathered information coupled with plate recognition in the area. This can provide additional information to investigators trying to locate persons of interest related to recorded crimes in the area."

Combining license plate information with data collected from wireless signals is the kind of surveillance the U.S. military and intelligence agencies have long used, with devices mounted in vehicles, on drones or carried by hand to pinpoint the location of cell phones and other electronic devices. Their usage was once classified and deployed in places like Afghanistan and Iraq.

Today, similar devices are showing up in the streets of American cities near the U.S.-Mexico border.