Emails From License Plate Reader Company Hack Show Lobbyists Writing Legislation And Handing Out Talking Points To Congressional Reps

from the hooray-for-representative-republics! dept

Lee Fang of The Intercept has dug into the cache of internal license plate reader manufacturer documents dumped on the web earlier this year. In addition to hundreds of images of drivers and their vehicles passing through border checkpoints, the files also contained emails from Perceptics (the LPR manufacturer targeted by hackers) to Congressional reps, reminding them to hit their marks at the next Congressional hearing.

In April 2018, during an appropriations committee hearing, the Tennessee Republican took a more subdued and technical approach to immigration issues when quizzing then-Customs and Border Protection chief Kevin McAleenan. [Rep. Chuck] Fleischmann, looking down to read from a paper in front of him, wanted to know if McAleenan was on schedule to implement an upgrade of license plate reader technology at the border, as mandated by a previous appropriations bill.

McAleenan thanked the committee for its support and pledged continued work to upgrade LPR technology along the border.

A few days after the exchange, a lobbyist representing Perceptics, a tech company that sold state-of-the-art LPR cameras and technology to the government, emailed her team to confirm that Fleischmann had “asked about CBP’s plan to modernize its LPRs as we asked his office to do,” along with a link to a video clip of the hearing.

There's no element of surprise here. There will be no gasps of disbelief. About the only thing we can do is shake our heads at how willingly our public representatives will follow stage direction from corporations, especially when the talking points are in the interest of subjecting more people -- many of them US citizens -- to more surveillance.

It's amusing when a social media influencer accidentally posts some paid content from a sponsor/advertiser without changing a single word of the sales pitch. It's not nearly as funny when a Congressional rep reads directly from a company's email, demanding to know whether or not the CBP would be spending more LPR money in the near future.

Ultimately, this didn't work out for Perceptics. Not because Congressional reps decided they wouldn't be unofficial spokespeople for a number of corporate interests. The only reason Perceptics was dumped by the CBP was because it couldn't keep its information secure -- information that included its pointed conversations with legislators.

Other emails show Perceptics' lobbying firm, Ferox Strategies, assuring its client that both versions of competing immigration bills contained authorization for $125 million in "LPR modernization funds." The language in both bills appears to have come directly from Perceptics. Neither of these versions survived the 2018 legislative session, but Perceptics continued to press for preferential treatment. The emails say nice things about "open, competitive bid processes" but also make the point that cameras installed by Perceptics nearly a decade ago were in desperate need of updating. Additional emails show Perceptics' lobbyist firm had Texas Rep. John Cornyn on tap for functions, so long as lobbyists were willing to drop a little money in his coffers.

Once again, nothing truly surprising here other than the fact we actually have access to the emails. Of course, this is where the Freedom of Information Act fails to produce accountability. Congressional reps are exempt from the law. But they can't prevent data exfiltration. They can only hope to contain it.

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Filed Under: license plate reader, lobbyists, tennessee

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  1. icon
    Wendy Cockcroft (profile), 13 Aug 2019 @ 5:11am


    It doesn't help that partisan enablers will rush to defend it when you call it out, often resorting to whataboutism to shut down discussion. We need to be both willing and able to hold these people to account. Since we're not we end up calling for violence when a calm and measured response is the better way.

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