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Hacker stalls Port of San Diego's video spy network

"Search capabilities identify men, women, children, and vehicles with speed and precision"

BriefCam is a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc.
BriefCam is a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc.

When an unknown hacker brought the Port of San Diego to its knees last September, a key casualty of the ransomware attack was a push by staffers there to assemble a network of 400 video cameras blanketing the agency's sprawling jurisdiction.

Reader cover story on city program. The city's trove of video surveillance data is exclusively in the hands of police, with no stated limitation.

The setback, revealed by emails released January 28 by the port in response to a public records act request by MuckRock.com, has at least temporarily delayed plans to knit its burgeoning array of video cameras, audio sensors, and facial recognition devices into a formidable surveillance juggernaut tied to the use of artificial intelligence.

"As you may have heard or learned, the Port was hit with a ransomware attack on 9/25/2018 and it completely took down our network," port security official Matthew Brown wrote to a prospective vendor on October 29, explaining why the wait for a final decision was necessary.

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"Needless to say, it has been quite disruptive and severely altered our business operations. Our IT Department has worked tirelessly and methodically since that event toward incident response and compromise recovery. We have a great deal of subject matter expertise as boots on the ground assisting us with the recovery process. We are still likely three weeks from being back up and operating where we were before the event."

According to the emails, obtained by MuckRock on behalf of the Police Surveillance Project at Aaron Swartz Day, the setback was temporary. The documents show that under one closely-guarded scenario, the port's system would be tightly linked to the San Diego Police Department, which is advancing its video intelligence agenda with BriefCam, a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc., per the would-be port vendor.

"I am currently working with SDPD to deploy Briefcam at their new Real Time Crime Center for the entire city, which would greatly help you as some of the camera coverage would benefit each other," wrote the company's Western Region sales director Erik Wade in a November 16 email to the port's Brown.

"I know you were looking at several other options but I'd very much like to see what we can do to deploy a [Proof of Value demonstration] so you can see it in action and give you the chance to 'kick the tires."

The document included a link to a November 14 news release by the firm headlined "BriefCam Announces Real-Time Face Recognition for Enhanced Situational Awareness."

"Robust multi-camera search capabilities identify men, women, children, and vehicles with speed and precision, using 25 classes and attributes, face recognition, appearance similarity, color, size, speed, path, direction, and dwell time," the release says.

"Precise face recognition rapidly pinpoints people of interest in real-time using digital images extracted from video, external image sources, and pre-defined watchlists."

Wade's statements regarding the development with BriefCam of a Real Time Crime Center by San Diego's police department could not be immediately verified, but the city has been deploying an array of more than 4000 video cameras, sensors, and audio microphones atop streetlights as part of Mayor Faulconer's so-called Smart Cities initiative.

The city's trove of video surveillance data, according to a February 9 document entitled Intelligent Streetlight Data Policy, is exclusively in the hands of police, with no stated limitation, and officials have declined a January public records act request seeking details.

"The Chief of Police shall determine the manner in which video is retained and the duration of retention,” according to the policy.

Such secrecy has caused critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to question the methods and motives of law enforcement in deploying video security and related image processing networks.

"Local police forces have largely taken to acquiring and using surveillance technologies in secret,” notes the ACLU website.

“Of course, when the police conceal their use of surveillance technologies, they greatly enhance their ability to conceal its misuse, such as using a surveillance technology without a properly obtained warrant or in a discriminatory manner.”

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BriefCam is a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc.
BriefCam is a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc.

When an unknown hacker brought the Port of San Diego to its knees last September, a key casualty of the ransomware attack was a push by staffers there to assemble a network of 400 video cameras blanketing the agency's sprawling jurisdiction.

Reader cover story on city program. The city's trove of video surveillance data is exclusively in the hands of police, with no stated limitation.

The setback, revealed by emails released January 28 by the port in response to a public records act request by MuckRock.com, has at least temporarily delayed plans to knit its burgeoning array of video cameras, audio sensors, and facial recognition devices into a formidable surveillance juggernaut tied to the use of artificial intelligence.

"As you may have heard or learned, the Port was hit with a ransomware attack on 9/25/2018 and it completely took down our network," port security official Matthew Brown wrote to a prospective vendor on October 29, explaining why the wait for a final decision was necessary.

Sponsored
Sponsored

"Needless to say, it has been quite disruptive and severely altered our business operations. Our IT Department has worked tirelessly and methodically since that event toward incident response and compromise recovery. We have a great deal of subject matter expertise as boots on the ground assisting us with the recovery process. We are still likely three weeks from being back up and operating where we were before the event."

According to the emails, obtained by MuckRock on behalf of the Police Surveillance Project at Aaron Swartz Day, the setback was temporary. The documents show that under one closely-guarded scenario, the port's system would be tightly linked to the San Diego Police Department, which is advancing its video intelligence agenda with BriefCam, a subsidiary of Japanese camera and electronics giant Canon, Inc., per the would-be port vendor.

"I am currently working with SDPD to deploy Briefcam at their new Real Time Crime Center for the entire city, which would greatly help you as some of the camera coverage would benefit each other," wrote the company's Western Region sales director Erik Wade in a November 16 email to the port's Brown.

"I know you were looking at several other options but I'd very much like to see what we can do to deploy a [Proof of Value demonstration] so you can see it in action and give you the chance to 'kick the tires."

The document included a link to a November 14 news release by the firm headlined "BriefCam Announces Real-Time Face Recognition for Enhanced Situational Awareness."

"Robust multi-camera search capabilities identify men, women, children, and vehicles with speed and precision, using 25 classes and attributes, face recognition, appearance similarity, color, size, speed, path, direction, and dwell time," the release says.

"Precise face recognition rapidly pinpoints people of interest in real-time using digital images extracted from video, external image sources, and pre-defined watchlists."

Wade's statements regarding the development with BriefCam of a Real Time Crime Center by San Diego's police department could not be immediately verified, but the city has been deploying an array of more than 4000 video cameras, sensors, and audio microphones atop streetlights as part of Mayor Faulconer's so-called Smart Cities initiative.

The city's trove of video surveillance data, according to a February 9 document entitled Intelligent Streetlight Data Policy, is exclusively in the hands of police, with no stated limitation, and officials have declined a January public records act request seeking details.

"The Chief of Police shall determine the manner in which video is retained and the duration of retention,” according to the policy.

Such secrecy has caused critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union, to question the methods and motives of law enforcement in deploying video security and related image processing networks.

"Local police forces have largely taken to acquiring and using surveillance technologies in secret,” notes the ACLU website.

“Of course, when the police conceal their use of surveillance technologies, they greatly enhance their ability to conceal its misuse, such as using a surveillance technology without a properly obtained warrant or in a discriminatory manner.”

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Nov. 20, 2020
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