Security

Texas rancher sues US government after finding connected spy cameras on his property

The lawsuit has raised questions about the limits of the government's power to conduct security surveillance on private property.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • A rancher from Texas is suing the US government after finding a border security connected camera on his property without his permission.
  • The case has brought up a number of concerns in terms of privacy, surveillance, and the Internet of Things.

A Texas rancher is suing the US government after finding a connected camera attached to a tree on his private property, according to Ars Technica.

The rancher and lawyer, Ricardo Palacios, found the camera encased in green plastic and with a transmitting antenna. He removed it from the tree, and soon received phone calls from Customs and Border Protection officials and the Texas Rangers, both claiming that they owned the camera and demanding he return it. When Palacios refused, the agencies threatened him with arrest, Ars Technica reported.

Palacios decided to sue the two agencies along with a Customs and Border Protection agent, accusing them of trespassing on his property and violating his constitutional rights.

SEE: Security awareness and training policy (Tech Pro Research)

The lawsuit has raised questions about the limits of the government's power to conduct security surveillance on private property, and the role of low-cost, Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices in surveillance efforts. The use of technology such as drones in surveillance has gained national scrutiny in recent years. Security professionals that use surveillance technology should ensure that their policies comply with the law.

In this case, the issue is border security: Under federal law, agents can go onto private property that is within 25 miles of the US-Mexico border "for the purpose of patrolling the border to prevent the illegal entry of aliens into the United States," Ars Technica noted.

However, Palacios' ranch is located 35 miles north of Laredo, the area of the nearest US-Mexico border crossing.

Palacios and his attorneys told Ars Technica that they believe the connected camera is part of Operation Drawbridge—a project from the Texas Department of Public Safety that uses "low cost, commercially off the shelf technology that has been adapted to meet law enforcement needs" in protecting the border from "Mexican Cartels and their drug and human smuggling/trafficking operations."

"Wild-life cameras with motion detection and low light capability were modified to meet specific needs and satisfy certain criteria," according to the Operation Drawbridge website. "Operation Drawbridge is fully operational today with hundreds of cameras located along the border."

The cameras—which cost about $300 each—are monitored 24/7 by a number of agencies working in portal security, according to the website.

In court filings about the case, Texas officials claimed qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects law enforcement officials, Ars Technica reported.

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Image: iStockphoto/Getty Images

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Senior Editor for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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