How The Feds Use Transportation Funds To Spy On You

Authored by Mike Maharrey via The Mises Institute,

A recent announcement by a local transit authority in Virginia sheds light on how the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) are building a massive, intrusive surveillance network built on America's transportation system.

The Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC) recently announced plans to install more than 100 live surveillance cameras at stops along a rapid transit line. According to a WTVR report, GRTC plans to install approximately four cameras at 26 Pulse stops along Broad Street. The system will be live 24 hours a day and directly connected to the city's 911 facility.

The ACLU of Virginia opposes the system. The organization's director of strategic communications said constant monitoring changes the nature of a community.

"There's very little evidence that this type of surveillance enhances public safety, and there is every reason to think that it inhibits people. That it causes us to behave differently than we would if we weren't being watched," Bill Farrar said, adding that the system will "keep tabs" on people who rely on public transit.

"GRTC has said in promoting this, in promoting the need for this particular line, we want to help people get out of the East End food desert. So we're saying use this to get the food that you need, but we're going to watch you while you do it.

GRTC Pulse is "a modern, high quality, high capacity rapid transit system serving a 7.6-mile route." It was developed through a partnership between the U.S. Department of Transportation, the Virginia Department of Transportation, the City of Richmond and Henrico County.

According to Style Weekly, "this new system will bring the total number of easily accessible, city or government-owned cameras available to police and other authorities to more than 300, including roughly 200 stationary cameras Richmond police already have easy access to, and 32 cameras owned by city police."

Farrar called the proliferation of cameras in the city "troubling."

"In practice, the use of these systems and the data they collect is almost always expanded, giving law enforcement more information than they need or should have about the personal lives of law-abiding people."

According to WTVR, the federal government required the installation of surveillance cameras along the new transit route as a condition of funding the project. 

"Officials said the federal TIGER grant used to fund the half of the project required the installation of the camera system."

This spotlights how the federal government uses funding to incentivize state and local agencies to participate in the expansion of a national surveillance state. Not only do they attach strings to project funding such as this camera requirement in Richmond, they also finance many state and local surveillance programs outright.

State and local agencies have access to a mind-boggling array of surveillance equipment. The federal government offers grants and other funding sources for this spy-gear. By tapping into federal money, law enforcement agencies can sometimes even keep purchases of surveillance technology “off the books.”

In other words, they can purchase high-tech surveillance equipment without any local government or public oversight. In fact, city councils, county governments and mayors may not even know police have obtained the equipment. This makes it difficult to determine just how expansive the American surveillance state has become.

When reports come out such as the recent revelation of Richmond's transit stop cameras, it cracks open the door and allows us to see just how the feds work with state and local agencies to expand its massive surveillance network.

In this case, it reveals that the federal government is piggybacking onto the transportation system to spy on Americans.

MassPrivatel monitors the expanding surveillance state across the U.S. A recent blog post on its website asserted that the "DHS and the TSA's role in turning public transportation into city-wide police surveillance networks is unmistakable."

Digging into this government scheme to turn the transportation system into a surveillance platform reveals a complicated web of state, local and federal government agencies, along with private organizations, all involved in expanding the surveillance state.

A 2010 US Government Accountability Office (GAO) report titled 'Public Transit Information Sharing' highlights the TSA and DHS's role in creating a giant public transit surveillance network working through various partnerships. The report also reveals information sharing going on between local transit authorities, local law enforcement, the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA.

Since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the federal government, including DHS, has taken a number of actions to enhance the security of transportation systems. These actions include improving information sharing with its critical sector stakeholders, which is highlighted in the 2008 Department of Homeland Security Information Sharing Strategy, as well as the 2009 National Infrastructure Protection Plan (NIPP). To help facilitate information sharing with the public transit industry, DHS and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) have created and funded a number of mechanisms, including the Public Transportation Information Sharing and Analysis Center (PT-ISAC), which is administered by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). The PT-ISAC was created under the direction of the Department of Transportation (DOT) in 2003 and is currently funded by TSA via DOT’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA). In addition to DHS, other federal agencies, such as the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and FTA, have also taken action to enhance their efforts to share security-related information with public and private stakeholders, including public transit agencies.

The APTA is a nonprofit organization serving as an advocate for the advancement of public transportation programs and initiatives in the U.S. Its website describes it as "the leading force in advancing public transportation." But as the GAO report indicates, it also administers the PT-ISAC - a transportation surveillance program. PT-ISAC collects, stores and disseminates information related to transportation security. It also publishes The Transit And Rail Intelligence Awareness Daily (TRIAD).

"The TRIAD is developed from the numerous sources of intelligence available to the Transportation community today, focusing on counter-terrorism, suspicious activity reports, and general security awareness. The Surface Transportation Security Information Library, available to those vetted to receive the TRIAD, acts as an information repository housing all sources of information provided in the TRIAD as well as other security products, information reviews, and intelligence not provided in the TRIAD. The information will remain available to users as a means for accessing the entirety of intelligence reviewed in the TRIAD and other relevant information, serving as a resource for future research into threats or mitigation techniques."

Where does information filling the Surface Transportation Security Information Library come from? Almost certainly from camera systems and other surveillance technology funded by the federal government, or required by it in transportation grant awards such as the one used to fund Richmond's rapid transit line.

Further digging revealed how this works.

A private company called IIT operates the PT-ISAC for the APTA. The company website confirms the whole system operates as a two-way information highway with surveillance data moving back and forth between state, local and federal agencies.

"The PT-ISAC collects, analyzes, and reports critical cyber and physical security and threat information from innumerable sources to include the U.S. private infrastructures, U.S. intelligence community, U.S, Government, U.S. Military, law enforcement, academia, and the international CERT community on a 24×7 basis. The PT-ISAC provides a secure, two-way reporting and analysis structure that enables the transmission of critical alerts and advisories as well as the collection, analysis and reporting of security information for transit agencies across the nation."

To sum this up, the Department of Homeland Security and the TSA continue to develop a massive, intrusive surveillance network built on America's transportation system. A private, nonprofit organization administers the system and a private company actually runs it.

Meanwhile, federal agencies including the DHS, the Department of Transportation and the Department of Justice fund the equipment used to collect reams of information on millions of Americans, and also requires participation in the surveillance state as a condition of funding various transportation infrastructure projects.

This demonstrates the federal government's dependence on state and local government actors to run the ever-growing surveillance. It also reveals its Achilles heel. If state and local governments prohibit participation in such schemes, they could effectively pull the plug on these surveillance programs.

There are several steps state and local governments need to take.

  1. Refuse federal funds that require participation in surveillance programs.

  2. Prohibit storage and sharing of surveillance data with other agencies without a warrant.

  3. Institute warrant requirements for surveillance technologies such as stingrays, drones and mobile cameras.

  4. Require government agencies to get local government approval before acquiring or using surveillance technology.


Last of the Mi… johnQpublic Wed, 05/23/2018 - 07:56 Permalink

Funny how more surveillance of the law abiding is always the answer. All government funds now are predicated on "just one more "database" and we'll all be safe. Destroy any religion, culture, family values and institute a database for everything. Beware the implementation of a mad man's utopia.

We are lost if we don't get these people out of our lives.

In reply to by johnQpublic

glenlloyd WTFUD Wed, 05/23/2018 - 01:00 Permalink

This is very disturbing.

It most certainly cannot be shut down now either, and that's what really bothers me about all this sort of thing.

I could ask my local city council members or mayor about what equipment the Police has gotten via the federal programs but I know I wouldn't like what I got as a response. I've already seen a MRAP rolling on to the freeway one day, I doubt that very many really recognize that for what it is.

I'm tempted to ask my city council how many of those things the Police has gotten but I'm sure I 1) wouldn't like the answer and 2) I'd be labeled as a pre-trouble maker.

One more reason I'm not a big fan of living in the city anymore.

In reply to by WTFUD

Aussiekiwi Alananda Wed, 05/23/2018 - 02:02 Permalink

Good!! my little cousin was on the train in Brisbane when 4 girls a little older decided they wanted her laptop and bag, one pulled a knife, so she handed everything over...However they have CCTV monitoring in the trains and it did not take long for the police to locate and charge the girls.

So, laptop returned , prosecutions and those girls are on the system for the rest of their lives which may save other people being robbed or killed. Without the CCTV they would have been able to continue to commit hundreds of muggings ,robberies and stabbings in their lives, a lot of victims saved by identifying the criminals early and letting them know they will be watched....literally.

In reply to by Alananda

hannah Alananda Wed, 05/23/2018 - 14:13 Permalink

several years ago i was out running and stopped at a signal light. a man was installing cameras.  i later noticed he had installed cameras on all the major intersections in town. these werent the emergency vehicle switches either...these are cameras. there isnt a single way 'out of town' without being photographed. the highways in my area already have cameras going 50 miles north/south and close to 100 miles east /west. these are online but from my testing they arent actually showing real time at all...which doesnt mean the 'real' feed the gov sees isnt fucked up. we will have a massive thunderstorm yet the weather is great on the highway which means the feed we get isnt real time.....

In reply to by Alananda

WTFUD David2923 Tue, 05/22/2018 - 23:14 Permalink

That would be breaking the Law and one shouldn't condone such an obscene act. lol

Picture the old lady returning from the city, quarterly blue-rinse and part digested tea & scone, the shock horror of a big hairy ass appearing unexpectedly.

. . . . . an' what about the chilurns.

You've gone too far this time Delta House.


In reply to by David2923

WTFUD Tue, 05/22/2018 - 23:00 Permalink

It's obvious the Fed/State are preparing for the surge in Civil Disobedience from an increasingly desperate public.

It'll be fun watching retiring government employees shock/horror when their Pensions are half or less of expectations.

My sympathy lies with those 'who never sawrrr it coming'. lol

Oboneterm Tue, 05/22/2018 - 23:31 Permalink

Your government has been installing surveillance cameras and sensors at every single interstate freeway entrance/exit and bridge for years. And not a peep of outrage from anyone. 

Take a ride down i10, i20, i40, i80 i75,i95,etc.....there is a camera and a sensor mounted on a pole or a light within 1/8 of a mile of the entrance/exit to the freeway. Sensors abound throughout the interstate highway system. 

A video of your license plate number and face is sitting on some SSHD server at the NAS data center and has been for years.

To quote James Crapper...."we do not collect data or survival U.S. citizens.... Uhmmmm not wittingly....." 

Ya right ..... 

Chief Joesph Wed, 05/23/2018 - 00:06 Permalink

There is another way of stopping the surveillance programs.  Just shoot the bastards and be done with it. Those hypersonic bullets will do the trick every time.

Muppet Wed, 05/23/2018 - 00:23 Permalink

Defense spending on the highways was apparent years ago when, throughout the U.S., extremely tall light towers were installed at key highway intersections.  The towers were odd by their height and seemed to introduce video tracking.

More recently, it is the underground military bases (UMBs)  that have been built below major cities. Chicago deep tunnel, Boston big dig, Denver airport, Freedom tower, etc.  Miles and miles of huge tunnels.  Very curious. 

VWAndy Wed, 05/23/2018 - 01:15 Permalink

 With all these spying tools around an honest person might expect it would be used to root out all the corruption.

 That it has not been is a pretty good clue as to all the poople with access to its character. Basic logic says they must all be corrupt to some extent.

 I know thats a fucked up thing to say. Mostly because its true.

platyops Wed, 05/23/2018 - 01:51 Permalink

I heard a rumor, maybe it was from here on ZH. But never mind: if it is only a rumor now it will surely be a reality within 3 years.

Several billionaires are in conjunction with a secret government agency. They have funded a few new satellites that will have the capacity to capture every square inch of the planet earth 24/7 on camera. 

Not a good time to be a criminal or someone on the secret agency's "bad list".

Keep Stacking!

Bloodstock Wed, 05/23/2018 - 03:26 Permalink

Perhaps this explains why the public transportation system in our town in IL loses almost $1 million per month. It's just another set up to bleed the people of their tax dollars and privacy, their freedoms.

WHATDIFFERENCE… Wed, 05/23/2018 - 08:55 Permalink

I guess that is what’s needed after raising decades of feral children. These soulless progressives are just so damn clueless about the consequences of their actions. The fact that I have to witness it all in my lifetime just pisses me off all the more.

surf@jm Wed, 05/23/2018 - 09:43 Permalink

The surveillance state has become just like prisons.....

A private company is awarded a contract to do work for the government, which then turns corrupt, as the private company bribes politicians, and government officials to continue, and expand the contract......

"A Pennsylvania judge was sentenced to 28 years in prison in connection to a bribery scandal that roiled the state's juvenile justice system. Former Luzerne County Judge Mark Ciavarella Jr. was convicted of taking $1 million in bribes from developers of juvenile detention centers. The judge then presided over cases that would send juveniles to those same centers. The case came to be known as "kids-for-cash."