Welcome to this week’s edition of The Intelligence Brief. In this installment we’ll be taking a look at 1) The Pentagon’s new $4 million deal with Vislink, 2) why companies like Vislink that offer video streaming and surveillance technologies have surged in the financial market since 2019, and 3) analysis of the broader use of video and surveillance technologies, as well as the pros and cons therein.
And with that out of the way, it’s time to begin our intel briefing…
Vislink Enters Agreement to Offer Intel on the Go
Valued at more than $4 million, Vislink Technologies, Inc. has announced an order from the U.S. Department of Defense for the production of handheld devices designed for use in surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence gathering. The technologies, identified in a press release as being receiver devices and supplemental accessories, “are designed to display… high-resolution, real-time video imagery transmitted by aerial platforms.”
Although the Pentagon had not immediately confirmed the order at its website, in recent weeks the DoD has announced a number of contracts with other companies that include Draper, as well as Hardwick Tactical Corporation.
Vislink, formerly xG Technology, Inc, and otherwise nicknamed “The Company”, has developed wireless communications systems for half a century. The company’s focus today deals primarily with video systems, their delivery, and management “of high quality, live video and associated data in the broadcast, law enforcement and defense markets.” Vislink also produces technologies with applications in terrestrial microwave, satellite, fiber optic, and surveillance systems.
Vislink CEO Mickey Miller said in a statement that the company’s relationship with the U.S. military “is a testament to our high-quality wireless video communication solutions and the continued crucial need for real-time and secure video data delivery of actionable intelligence.”
“We are honored to continue to be chosen by the United States’ military forces to serve as a go-to source for best-in-class video performance technology,” Miller said.
Follow the Money
Vislink’s technologies are more pertinent in the connected world of today than perhaps at any time before. Hence, it’s no wonder that the company has seen noticeable market gains within the last few years. As many businesses have been negatively impacted by COVID-19, the demand for enhanced video and streaming capabilities in midst of the pandemic have resulted in significant growth for companies that provide video and communications services.
Last year in June, it was reported that Vislink had risen close to 200% in trading, effectively tripling the company’s worth as widespread protests resulting from the death of George Floyd rocked the United States. Public outcry in the aftermath of Floyd’s killing resulted in calls for broader use of body cameras by law enforcement, along with public access to that data to help ensure accountability for law enforcement agencies.
Even prior to 2020, Vislink had been seeing significant gains. Beginning with the fourth quarter of 2019, three hedge funds were holding long positions with Vislink, representing a change of 50% from the previous quarter according to Insider Monkey, which reported that “there exists a select group of notable hedge fund managers who were adding to their stakes substantially” with the company. In February, the company announced plans to initiate $50 million registered direct offering, priced at-the-market in accordance with NASDAQ guidelines.
Big Brother is Watching… Hopefully?
The modern debate over technologies capable of use for purposes of surveillance is a complicated one. George Orwell’s classic novel 1984 set the tone for wariness of technologies deployed by government that keep watch over all aspects of society. Obviously, there is merit to having concerns about the overuse–and overreach–of surveillance by government; however, the case of George Floyd’s death highlights a unique instance where the societal response appeared to favor the broader implementation of surveillance capabilities, in an effort toward fostering broader accountability for state and federal agencies.
While the idea that “Big Brother is watching” may have been intended by Orwell as a warning, the effective implementation of body cameras by law enforcement personnel, as well as video systems used by a variety of federal government agencies, may be capable of enhancing accountability and transparency overall. This especially on account of the fact that information gathered by such systems may be subject to Freedom of Information Act or Public Records Act requests by the citizenry. Privacy should be valued, although the death of George Floyd illustrates one of many examples where popular response appears to supports the implementation of such technologies in ways that are able to present an added layer of accountability to local and federal authorities.
While the argument can certainly be made that the implementation of some surveillance technologies may actually benefit transparency, there nonetheless remains the potential for their misuse. But rather than merely being misuse by government agencies, perhaps an even greater concern involves the potential exploitation of surveillance technologies by foreign governments or by non-governmental third parties.
It was recently reported that Silicon Valley startup Verkada was the victim of a hacking operation, which managed to gain access to live streaming video feeds managed by the company. Verkada had not been the targets of the hack, however; it had been their high-profile clients, which included Cloudflare, a number of jails, schools and hospitals, and even Tesla.
As many as 150,000 live video feeds the company manages were compromised, Ars Technica reported.
Tillie Kottmann, part of the hacker group APT 69420 Arson Cats, Tweeted, “I don’t think the claim ‘we hacked the internet’ has ever been as accurate as now.” Of course, many of the hacker collective’s targets in this instance—among which had been jails, prisons, psychiatric wards, and schools—comprised areas where the group would likely argue that the merit of broader accessibility to information about these facilities may be warranted. Conversely, among the problems that stem from such unauthorized access to surveillance networks are concerns about the privacy of patients and inmates at these facilities.
The majority of us today carry mobile devices with us that feature one or more cameras and microphones, or have other technologies in our homes and places of business which are equally exploitable. The reality is that the more connected the world becomes, the more opportunities there will be for such exploitation.