A Blog by Jonathan Low


Dec 12, 2021

Surveillance Tech CEO Threatens Reporter For Asking Questions, Being Intrusive

Irony abounds. JL

Tim Cushing reports in Tech Dirt:

The reporter was seeking comment from several camera providers about NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) claims made on their websites. "NDAA compliant" may look good slapped on products and in marketing copy, but all it means is the company is not one of a handful of Chinese companies which have been blacklisted by the federal government. The CEO objected to the reporter's questions, warning the reporter "we will pull the trigger on a lawsuit the
 instant you refence [sic] me or my company in any article" .

When a reporter sends inquiries about claims made on your website, the best response is obviously to threaten them with a lawsuit. That should ensure a steady stream of positive press and deter them from asking further questions about claims made on your website.

Oh, wait. It's the other thing. It ensures you'll be at least temporarily enshrined as an asshat and litigious thug, especially when the reporter is only asking questions any logical person might when coming across these claims.

That's what just happened to Isabella Cheng of IPVM, a long-running and respected authority on security cameras and other video surveillance technology. Here are just some of IPVM's credentials:

IPVM research is cited in US Congressional reporting as well as global publications ranging from the WSJ, BBC, Financial Times, WaPo, NY Times, Bloomberg, Reuters, VoA, and many more.

And here are Backstreet Surveillance's CEO Scott McQuarrie's most relevant… um… credentials… as relayed to the IPVM reporter after she emailed questions about claims made on Backstreet's site. Keep in mind, these were questions Cheng was also asking other surveillance camera sellers.

Backstreet Surveillance's CEO objected to an IPVM reporter's questions, warning the reporter to "elevate this to your upper management, it [sic] important they be involved because we will pull the trigger on a lawsuit the instant you refence [sic] me or my company in any article" in a lengthy response to questions about the company's NDAA claims.

Scott McQuarrie might want to explain where in the United States "referencing [Backstreet] or [CEO Scott McQuarrie] in any article" is an actionable legal claim. I understand the legal system will, however briefly, entertain anything lobbed into a court with a filing fee attached, but there is currently no (legal) way to prevent someone from referencing companies in articles, blog posts, tweets, Facebookery, LiveJournal fanfic, or whatever.

The backstory hardly explains the response. IPVM was seeking comment from several camera providers about NDAA (National Defense Authorization Act) claims made on their websites. "NDAA compliant" may look good slapped on products and referenced in marketing copy, but all it really means is the company is not one of a handful of Chinese companies which have been blacklisted by the federal government. Being compliant simply means not reselling these products or using their components. Not all that tough to do.

While it's true there's such a thing as "NDAA certified," it's not much more than being "NDAA compliant." Any manufacturer that is compliant can easily become "certified" by filling out and signing a form stating that you're not on the ban list nor do you use components that are on the ban list.

Backstreet makes a big deal about both of these things. It also has written a blog post about these things, amplifying the company's ability to not be a Chinese manufacturer banned by the US government. In that post, Backstreet calls out another company for claiming to be NDAA compliant when, in fact, it is owned by a Chinese company banned by the federal government. In that post, it uses this image:

It tells customers to "look for this logo," pointing to Backstreet's self-created "NDAA Compliance" logo. This post was edited after IPVM started asking questions. The original post told customers to "only buy equipment that displays the approved [NDAA] logo." IPVM wanted to know what "approved logo" referred to, since it's pretty clear the federal government hasn't created or distributed an "NDAA Compliance" logo. Instead, camera manufacturers are creating their own logos, giving their products an air of (federal) authority without actually having any government-created logo to designate their ability to be not one of a handful of Chinese manufacturers.

Prior to the belated correction, Backstreet gave the impression there was such a thing: a government-created logo given only to those who were truly NDAA compliant.

How do you know you are buying equipment that is approved and secure? Only buy equipment that states it is NDAA compliant and displays the approved logo.

Rather than simply apologize or offer to get back to the reporter with more details, McQuarrie fired off an email calling the reporter "incompentent" and a "rooky" [sic]. This followed his first email where he stated the reporter didn't "understand" the apparent complexities of Backstreet's "approved logo" claims.

After the legal threats came a correction -- one that could have been given as an initial response to the reporter's questions:

There is no government approved NDAA logo. The logo we use on our site was created by us and is placed on all products on our site that meet NDAA requirements. This is done so consumers are aware of which items they can consider if NDAA is of concern to them. Initial postings on a single webpage included the term "approved NDAA logo". This was an error made by an entry level programmer, as soon as we were aware of the error the term was removed.

A little late but better than what the CEO offered in response to press inquiries. And rather than simply admit the error and walk away from it, the correction (prompted by the IPVM reporter's questions) arrived with additional direct criticism of the site that made the CEO aware of its misstatements about NDAA logos.

Why we Posted this Information

We received an email from a reporter for IPVM, an online security magazine. While we welcome any inquiry and interest in our equipment and services, we were offended by the tone of her email and and lack of basic knowledge. We do not appreciate her prejudgment and biased approach. She gave us until December 6th to respond because its likely she had already written the article and it is scheduled to be published. The problem is her ignorance of the basic facts is already woven into her article. ISABELLA, YES THERE IS NDAA CERTIFICATION AND YES YOU USE A GOVERNMENT FORM TO DOCUMENT IT! Its stunning that a publication that presents itself as a security industry resource is void of such basic knowledge.

But the report had not yet been written. The journalist was still seeking comment from several companies. The report was never going to be solely about Backstreet… at least not until Scott McQuarrie made at least this article solely about him and his company. One has to assume this addition wasn't written by everyone's favorite scapegoat, an "entry-level" employee. The typos and grammatical errors eerily align with McQuarrie's (shall we say) cadence when responding to IPVM's inquiries.

Appended to what appears to be McQuarrie's angry keyboard-hammering is an equally ridiculous "legal notice for IPVM":

Posted December 5th at 9:23am MST documenting this factual information was publically available to IPVM before IPVM posted any non-factual slanderous articles. All liability now lies with IPVM and all legal remedies for damages inflicted on Backstreet are reserved and will be exercised to the full extend of the law.

Well, no lawyer was consulted before this was angrily written. You can't shift liability just by adding a paragraph to a blog post. Responding in kind would require IPVM to "fully extend" at least one middle finger in the direction of the CEO, who doesn't appear to have the mentality needed to interact with the press, much less hold a leadership role in a company that employs anyone but himself.

IPVM asked some simple questions. The CEO could have answered the questions and corrected any claims that weren't entirely accurate. It's not that hard to do. Two other companies contacted by IPVM with similar questions responded this way:

[V]deo surveillance supplier, Clare Controls, responded "The use of the word certified is an error. Our policy is to state compliance. This will be corrected immediately."

Likewise, Verkada responded saying they "have removed the page in question" and ceased saying they were "NDAA certified."

It doesn't appear Backstreet is willing to sue. (At least so far…) McQuarrie, having fucked this up entirely, has decided to walk away from this with his unearned smugness intact. This is how he responded to IPVM's post covering his baseless legal threats:


Hang on, after looking at what you posted, we are quite comfortable. It clearly shows the bias of your reporter and our concerns. If you would please provide more SEO links to our site so we get as much benefit from the article as possible it would be apricated.

Thank you

Oh, but it doesn't, Scott. It shows you don't know how to handle press inquiries and are willing to sabotage both your and your company's reputations because you think legal threats are an appropriate response to errors or misleading claims on your company's website. You're not going to score any Google juice from IPVM's article. SEO does not work that way, doubly so because IPVM never links to your website directly. And we won't either. What's going to be rising in the Google ranks is your bullshit legal threats in response to mistakes on your company's website. You need to think before you speak. And, as the CEO of a company, you should probably consult your company's legal reps before issuing legal threats.


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