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

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.

"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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Comments

Cassander March 11, 2019 @ 11 a.m.

I was criticized when the SDPD story broke on 2/22 for pointing out that the surveillance state is fundamentally incompatible with democratic society: "I sincerely doubt one of our basic 1st [Amendment] rights is in jeopardy by public right-of-way video. I completely reject your dystopian view of the future."

Since then, we've learned that DHS amassed a database of journalists and activists covering border and immigration issues, monitored and intercepted them from doing their reporting and other perfectly legal activity.

What needs to be rejected is not a view of the future, but the dystopian present.

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JustWondering March 11, 2019 @ 12:33 p.m.

“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.”

When in a public venue, business, or place where most everyone has their own cellphone cameras, what person would believe what they are doing is private in any fashion?

Due to the ongoing and admirable reporting none of these surveillance initiatives are concealed from the public who care to stay informed. Will these systems catch some ignorant person who chooses to break the law in a public place? I hope so!

So get legislation written and passed that requires rules and audits by independent parties. Hold the operators accountable for transgressions over the rights spelled out in our Constitution. The goal for all of us should be safe and crime free lives. But as was once spelled out by a former U.S. President, “Trust, but verify.” It applies to our government, at all levels, too.

I started out my comment with a quote from the story. I’ll add this for your consideration. When the crooks and criminal opportunistic persons start stating how, when, where they intend to commit their crimes then law enforcement should disclose every tactic they use to catch them. Until then, it’s a game of cat and mouse. Sadly, statistically speaking, the mouse gets away more times than he’s caught. So introducing a new technology to reduce and or deter crime is a positive step in fight against crime.

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Cassander March 11, 2019 @ 12:52 p.m.

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." –Ben Franklin

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JustWondering March 11, 2019 @ 4:20 p.m.

That quote is completely out of context but is typically used in these arguments by people who are ignorant of Franklin’s context.

The words appear originally in a 1755 letter that Franklin is presumed to have written on behalf of the Pennsylvania Assembly to the colonial governor during the French and Indian War. The letter was a salvo in a power struggle between the governor and the Assembly over funding for security on the frontier, one in which the Assembly wished to tax the lands of the Penn family, which ruled Pennsylvania from afar, to raise money for defense against French and Indian attacks. The governor kept vetoing the Assembly’s efforts at the behest of the family, which had appointed him. So to start matters, Franklin was writing not as a subject being asked to cede his liberty to government, but in his capacity as a legislator being asked to renounce his power to tax lands notionally under his jurisdiction. In other words, the “essential liberty” to which Franklin referred was thus not what we would think of today as civil liberties but, rather, the right of self-governance of a legislature in the interests of collective security.

https://www.lawfareblog.com/what-ben-franklin-really-said

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Cassander March 11, 2019 @ 7:31 p.m.

The original context of this quote does not invalidate its relevance to literally the situation today, as historians have pointed out.

Regardless, you've made it clear you're more than happy to have no one watch the watchers, to trust but not verify, as the original article was about the refusal of the police to make footage available.

But I understand your psychological need to focus on the origin of the quote to distract from the obvious point. You're a "good German," JustWondering.

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JustWondering March 12, 2019 @ 2:35 p.m.

I don’t understand how you could reach that conclusion. My third paragragh CLEARLY STATED the needs for rules, accountability and Trust BUT verify. See below...

“So get legislation written and passed that requires rules and audits by independent parties. Hold the operators accountable for transgressions over the rights spelled out in our Constitution. The goal for all of us should be safe and crime free lives. But as was once spelled out by a former U.S. President, “Trust, but verify.” It applies to our government, at all levels, too.”

I also take great offense at your comment of being “a good German”. While I understand you being unable to defend your out-of-context use of Franklin’s words, equating me or my thoughts to a despicable time in human history is utterly offensive and beyond the pale. You known nothing about me or my past.

Besides this response to your foul words, I plan on contacting the Reader’s Moderator. Behavior such as yours should be banned.

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Cassander March 12, 2019 @ 4:20 p.m.

You also wrote, "If it was obvious video surveillance was present, how many people would make a choice and not commit a criminal act in the first place?" That and your other comments show you miss the point entirely, or don't care about its importance.

Authoritarian governments, such as ours is becoming, extend criminality to identities and beliefs, not just actions. One need only see how the current administration is redefining lawful immigrants as "illegals" and seeking to expand the definition of libel to cover legitimate criticism to see that your position offers no defense against such tactics, only encouragement. Why else haven't you condemned what I pointed out, that Border Patrol is already monitoring and harassing journalists and activists using the technology under discussion?

In sum, your willingness to report me for no other reason than that the truth of your complicity stings, simply admits that your arguments are anti-democratic and cannot stand on their own.

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JustWondering March 12, 2019 @ 5:45 p.m.

You really have a skewed view of the world and our Goverment. Try taking off the tin foil and getting out of the basement from time to time. The fresh air may do you some good. The tired liberal mantra...it’s our way and only our way. Anyone who does not see our way is to be attacked.

Under Saul Alinski’s Rules for Radicals: "Power is not only what you have but what the enemy thinks you have." "Never go outside the expertise of your people." "Whenever possible go outside the expertise of the enemy." "Make the enemy live up to its own book of rules." "Ridicule is man's most potent weapon." "A good tactic is one your people enjoy." "A tactic that drags on too long becomes a drag." "Keep the pressure on." "The threat is usually more terrifying than the thing itself." "The major premise for tactics is the development of operations that will maintain a constant pressure upon the opposition." "If you push a negative hard and deep enough it will break through into its counterside." "The price of a successful attack is a constructive alternative." "Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it, and polarize it."

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Cassander March 12, 2019 @ 7:07 p.m.

Let's go over the facts:

You said, "So get legislation written and passed that requires rules and audits by independent parties. Hold the operators accountable for transgressions over the rights spelled out in our Constitution." This article makes clear that "officials have declined a January public records act request seeking details." That's legislation already on the books, not being followed. What good would more laws broken without consequence do?

You said, "[I] really have a skewed view of the world and our Government," for pointing out that this technology is already being used against free citizens per their "rights spelled out in our Constitution." That's not skewed: it's true. And pivoting to call me a "liberal" and a "radical" for upholding bedrock Constitutional protections is...defending order over freedom. Thus the appropriateness of the historical epithet to which you take such offense.

I've never read Saul Alinsky, though it seems those quotes apply more to you than they do me. But you remind me of a poem by a great American:

bellowing through the general noise Where is Effie who was dead? —to God in a tiny voice, i am may the first crumb said

whereupon its fellow five crumbs chuckled as if they were alive and number two took up the song, might i'm called and did no wrong

cried the third crumb, i am should and this is my little sister could with our big brother who is would don't punish us for we were good;

and the last crumb with some shame whispered unto God, my name is must and with the others i've been Effie who isn't alive

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JustWondering March 12, 2019 @ 8:36 p.m.

Is it true Cassander too has a gingerbread head

I don’t know, but if you disagree be on guard for the next response in the thread

With a state of thought many others do dread

Cassander logic has no cred.

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jjordon March 11, 2019 @ 2:59 p.m.

Enjoyed the article. Just a few updates:

1) Many cities around the nation have real time crime centers, which enhance criminal investigations by promptly responding to information requests from officers and detectives in the field. SDPD does not have a real time crime center.

2) There have been a number of stories about the Smart Cities initiative, and if you or your readers would like to learn more about the program you can attend a meeting this Wednesday at the Malcolm X Library. The meeting starts at 5:30 PM. This link provides further details: https://www.sandiego.gov/sustainability/energy-and-water-efficiency/programs-projects/smart-city

We have also invited representatives from the ACLU and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

3) The technology in the streetlights being deployed does not include facial recognition, license plate readers, or pan-tilt-zoom capabilities - so there is no agreement or purchase orders with BriefCam.

4) I have not been contacted by you or received a public records act request from you or the San Diego Reader outlining your questions or concerns, but I'll happily answer them at the upcoming meeting.

Lt. Jeff Jordon SDPD

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monaghan March 11, 2019 @ 6:44 p.m.

Here's a challenge and an invitation. But I'm not going down to the Malcolm X Library on a Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. in stop and stop southbound traffic unless I know that the ACLU and the EFF have committed to attend the gathering. How about it, Lt. Jordon?

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Cassander March 11, 2019 @ 8:21 p.m.

Oh, and about this article: Did the port pay the ransom, but the hacker reneged?

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UppityCracker March 14, 2019 @ 6:29 p.m.

Matthew Brown's port security team is appropriately named "The Brown Shirts". Owellian. Sanctuary city where laws are ignored regarding illegal aliens, and citizens are subjected to AI and facial recognition cameras spying on them by the Gestapo. Praying for The Big One, with tsunami and San Onofre meltdown.

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massprivatei March 15, 2019 @ 7:23 a.m.

San Diego Has Been Turned Into A Massive Chinese-Style Public Surveillance Network

Can you imagine a city in the United States secretly creating a Chinese-style public surveillance network that can identify everyone? Can you imagine that same city secretly creating a Chinese-style public watchlisting network?

Well imagine no more because it has already happened.

When I wrote about "covert facial recognition streetlights coming to a city near you" last year, I never would have dreamt that my article would become a reality so quickly.

A recent article in the San Diego Reader reveals how a hacker discovered emails between the Port of San Diego and BriefCam. The emails revealed that law enforcement is secretly using a network of 400 facial recognition surveillance cameras to identify everyone.

Last year, BriefCam announced a "breakthrough" in real-time facial recognition surveillance.

"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."

What I was surprised to learn about is how San Diego law enforcement has secretly created a public watchlisting network.

Buried in Briefcam's "breakthrough" announcement is an admission that boggles the mind.

San Diego's law enforcement is using Briefcam to create "precise face recognition [that] rapidly pinpoints people of interest in real-time using digital images extracted from video, external image sources and pre-defined watchlists."

Watchlisting people is a major selling point for BriefCam, "our scalable watchlist management enables rapid and powerful rule configuration." https://massprivatei.blogspot.com/2019/03/san-diego-has-been-turned-into-massive.html

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