A controversial technology surveillance company that has been the focus of critical coverage by Vice is suing the millennial-focused news outlet seeking $300 million in damages.
ShotSpotter, a technology service which uses hidden microphones to detect potential gunshots and alert law enforcement agencies in real time, said in a complaint filed Monday that it is suing Vice over a series of articles casting doubt on the service’s practices and effectiveness, according to a copy obtained by The Daily Beast. The lawsuit was filed in Delaware Superior Court.
“We want to correct the record and we want to hold them to account for their defamatory campaign which has caused damage, compromising future contracts, damaging business relationships and our reputation,” ShotSpotter CEO Ralph Clark told The Daily Beast in a brief interview. “It has also damaged our company's enterprise value causing our stock price to fall.”
Vice did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
Over the past several years, Vice’s tech news and investigations vertical Motherboard has written at least six articles about the surveillance service. One such report alleged that in some cities ShotSpotter’s audio sensors were being installed almost exclusively in predominantly non-white neighborhoods and generating false shooting alerts that led to armed police being deployed to such areas. (In its lawsuit, ShotSpotter claimed Vice “recklessly disregarded or intentionally concealed” information like how the surveillance company has a Black CEO and is “overseen by a board that includes the president of the largest civil rights organization in the United States… has saved the lives of Black gunshot victims, and [has] exonerated Black men of crimes they did not commit.”)
But Monday’s lawsuit largely focused on one Motherboard article suggesting that, at the behest of police departments, ShotSpotter had in several instances altered data in ways that “appear to be grasping for evidence that supports [law enforcement’s] narrative of events.”
Vice’s articles rely heavily on publicly available court documents and testimony from experts and public defenders who have taken issue with the reliability of ShotSpotter’s technology. But the audio surveillance company claimed that Vice had taken the quotes out of context, and failed to highlight instances where the company’s technology was used successfully in both prosecutions and defenses. (Motherboard included stats provided by the company in at least one of its stories about ShotSpotter.)
“VICE’s defamatory implications about ShotSpotter are false,” the lawsuit alleged. “ShotSpotter does not fabricate gunshots or alter evidence. No court has ever concluded otherwise, nor have ShotSpotter’s experts ever testified otherwise.”
Shotspotter’s technology has been a magnet for controversy and criticism even before Motherboard’s articles. As the publication pointed out, several cities including Charlotte, North Carolina; San Antonio, Texas; Troy, New York; and others have not renewed contracts with ShotSpotter.
ShotSpotter is being represented in the case by Clare Locke, the law firm that has become notorious in media circles for its aggressive counsel in defamation cases against media companies.
As The Daily Beast reported in 2018, the firm successfully “neutered” a Washington Post story about 60 Minutes executive producer Jeff Fager, who hired a law firm to push back against an investigation into his alleged misconduct. The firm also represented former Today show host Matt Lauer and New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush, who were previously accused of sexual misconduct in reporting by major news outlets.