Last month, Herman Jacob took his daughter and her friend camping in the
Francis Marion National Forest. While poking around for some firewood, Jacob
noticed a wire. He pulled the wire and followed it to a video camera and
The camera didn’t have any markings identifying its owner, so Jacob
took it home and called law enforcement agencies to find out if it was theirs,
all the while wondering why someone would station a video camera in an isolated
clearing in the woods.
He eventually received a call from Mark Heitzman of the U.S. Forest
Service. In a stiff voice, Heitzman ordered Jacob to turn it back over to his
agency, explaining that it had been set up to monitor “illicit activities.”
Jacob returned the camera but felt uneasy.
But Jacob is one of those pesky kind of people who want to know why his privacy was being invaded.
Why, he wondered, would the Forest Service have secret cameras in a
relatively remote camping area? What do they do with photos of bystanders? How
many hidden cameras are they using, and for what purposes? Is this surveillance
in the forest an effective law enforcement tool? And what are our expectations
of privacy when we camp on public land?
Officials with the Forest Service were hardly forthcoming with answers
to these and other questions about their surveillance cameras. When contacted
about the incident, Heitzman said “no comment” and referred other questions to
Forest Service’s public affairs, who he said, “won’t know anything about
So, basically, the US Forestry Service is telling Jacob, and anyone else, to eff off. Don't worry about it. Nothing to see here. Well...if there's nothing to see, what the hell are you guys videotaping? The USFS "assures" you that images of people not "targets of an investigation" are not kept. What the hell does that mean? And if there's nefarious stuff going on in these campsites, how come there's no warning to campers?
Anyone want to lay odds on whether or not images of people in the nude or communing with nature have somehow managed to make it off these cameras and onto someone's personal hard drive? Anyone? Bueller?
Hattip Kulp & Savitz.