Motherboard on Thursday revealed that a “secretive” U.S. government vendor whose surveillance products are not publicly advertised has been marketing hidden cameras disguised as seemingly ordinary objects—vacuum cleaners, tree stumps, and tombstones—to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, among other law enforcement agencies, and the military, in addition to, ahem, “select clients.”
Yes, that’s tombstone cams, because absolutely nothing in this world is sacred.
The vendor, Special Services Group (SSG), was apparently none too pleased when Motherboard revealed that it planned to publish photographs and descriptions of the company’s surveillance toys. When reached for comment, SSG reportedly threatened to sue the tech publication, launched by VICE in 2009.
According to Motherboard, a brochure listing SSG’s products (starting at link from page 93) was obtained through public records requests filed with the Irvine Police Department in California.
Freddy Martinez, a policy analyst at government accountability group Open The Government, and Beryl Lipton, a reporter/researcher at the government transparency nonprofit MuckRock, both filed requests and obtained the SSG brochure, Motherboard said.
In warning the site not to disclose the brochure, SSG’s attorney reportedly claimed the document is protected under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR), though the notice did not point to any specific section of the law, which was enacted to regulate arms exports at the height of the Cold War.
ITAR does prohibit the public disclosure of certain technical data related to military munitions. It’s unlikely, however, that a camera designed to look like a baby car seat—an actual SSG product called a “Rapid Vehicle Deployment Kit”—is covered under the law, which encompasses a wide range of actual military equipment that can’t be replicated in a home garage, such as space launch vehicles, nuclear reactors, and anti-helicopter mines.