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More Wiretapping: Smyth Staff Sought "Wiretap OK" from Unions; Phone Spyware

By Maureen Daly


In the wake of the disclosure that the the Town of Huntington was running "illegal wiretaps" on political opponents, town workers, residents, elected officials and news reporters, two senior staff of Supervisor Ed Smyth scrambled to get the town workers' unions to "consent" to the wiretaps.


The Town installed powerful cameras and hidden microphones last year that can record private conversations in the Town parking lots, sidewalks and hallways.  And they used the systems to wiretap Deputy Highway Superintendent George Schwertl, one of Smyth's possible political rivals in next year's election.


On Monday, May 13th, the Supervisor's office called an "emergency meeting" at Town Attorney Sue Coleman's office to confront several Highway Department workers about a minor fender bender at the Elwood facility of the Highway Department.  Highway Superintendent Andre Sorrentino attended the meeting.


Coleman showed the town workers a video recording - and the illegal audio recording of their private conversations and those of Schwertl and Sorrentino. 


"I believed that it was an invasion of privacy," stated Sorrentino later that week.


The Highway employees were outraged that their private conversations were being recorded, and brought their complaints back to their fellow workers and their union representatives.


In response, Smyth's Deputy Supervisor John McCarron and Coleman met with the unions representing the town's workers, in a cover-up scramble to get a "consent to audio surveillance" from the unions for their workers.  The union officials refused.


It is a federal and state criminal felony to wiretap private conversations.


After the North Shore Leader expose on the illegal wiretapping, Smyth and Councilman Sal Ferro called an emergency "press conference" the next day to address the scandal - but gave less than 30 minutes prior notice of the "press conference" to the media. No print or broadcast media - only one local blogger - were in attendance.


After denying they wiretap the public and town workers, Ferro admitted that "it was a mistake" that the high-powered microphones were "not turned off" and did, in fact, record private conversations.


Attending the "press conference" was Huntington Town IT Director David Genaway, whose senior staff openly bragged in Town Hall that they were secretly recording private conversations in the parking lots - including wiretapping a reporter for this newspaper.


The reaction to Smyth's claim that wiretapping was "a mistake" was scathing.


"I have installed security cameras for places a lot bigger than Huntington. The ability to record sound is an extra, it does not come with the cameras.," stated one Northport resident in a post on Nextdoor. "The fact that they say say 'the audio should have been turned off' is absolute BS. The cameras never should have had that ability in the first place. Citizens have a reasonable expectation of privacy and the unions will go nuts if they find this is happening. I don't believe for one second that the town officials have the recording ability turned off on these cameras. Rip them out and replace them....both the town officials and the cameras."


In a related development, three months ago, Huntington introduced a new "telephone app" called "Blue Connect" that acts as telephone spyware for the Town.


The Town has a BYOD (bring your own device) policy. Most town workers must use their own private cellphones - and have been told to install Blue Connect on their private phones.


Blue Connect gives a town worker remote access to their work desk telephone - but also downloads the person's private contact lists to the Town, and gives the Town access to the person's entire phone history.  Calls with family, doctors, other town workers or ex-workers are recorded by Town officials.


If the person has not disabled their location GPS system, Blue Connect also gives the Town officials a possible 24 hour monitoring ability of the worker's physical location.


Many senior Huntington workers have refused to install Blue Connect out of concerns for their privacy. Smyth's staff have directed town workers to "consent" to installing the App on their private telephones.


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