Sunday, May 20, 2007

Local Reaction to the Arivaca Tower and SBInet

Imagine the government is planning to build a 98 foot (30 metre) tower on the edge of your small town, where guards monitoring the adjacent national border will use radar and live video streaming to transmit the images and GPS locations of people crossing the border illegally to the laptops of guards waiting on the ground. At any time in this rural area, a 130 decibel "hailer-horn" could sound, disrupting the peace of your day, startling horses and their riders and scattering local birds and wildlife. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

This is the reality facing the residents of Arivaca, Arizona, the town which will serve as the pilot project for U.S. Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative or SBInet. The tower is scheduled to be erected this week. I wrote a few days ago about the privacy concerns this may raise for Canadian and Mexican citizens living near the U.S. borders and the proposed network of 10,000 kilometres (6,213 miles) of towers. J. Otto Pohl, a resident of Arivaca who has been writing about the tower in his blog Otto’s Random Thoughts pointed me to several local articles about the tower and the reaction of local residents. This is an enormous intrusion in their lives and they have been given very little notice and no real consultation by Homeland Security or Boeing.

What is more discouraging is the tremendous cost and apparent failure of this kind of technology in securing the borders. One year ago, The Washington Post wrote about SBI net and the checkered record of similar kinds of multi-billion dollar surveillance technologies:

If the military could seal a 6,000-mile border for $2 billion, Iraq's borders would have been sealed two years ago," said Andrew F. Krepinevich Jr., executive director of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a defense think tank.
The small town of Arivaca will serve as the proving ground for SBInet and local residents appear to have an uphill battle in ensuring their concerns are heard. Hopefully the amount of international attention given this story will not disappear once the tower goes up.

Meanwhile, under the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI), Canadians are facing huge line-ups at Passport Offices, as under the new American law every Canadian is now expected to produce a passport when flying across the border and a year from now, in order to cross the border by land. Until recently, a driver’s licence was adequate, particularly for a daytrip of cross-border shopping or visiting family and friends. The United States is implementing the WHTI to increase border security. The initiative stems from the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004, which is based on the 9/11 Commission Report.

Politicians in Canada and the U.S. have often boasted about sharing the longest, undefended border; those days are about to become a distant memory as a vast network of towers and surveillance equipment is erected along the border over the next few years.


J. Otto Pohl said...

Thanks for the link.

One Eyed View said...

I just stumbled your site and this article. Thank you for sharing this, as many of is would otherwise be completely unaware of things like this.

Your traffic should spike within the next few days;)

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J. Otto Pohl said...

I just put a link up on my blog to a series of recent photographs of the Arivaca Tower.

Anonymous said...

so far, besides the local news, this story has aired on NPR and Reuters, and will soon be featured in the Washington post and US News & World Report... it is also making its way into many blogs and youtube videos... please let everyone know. This issue is a focal point in the "immigration" debate. As a friend of mine said, "this is just the beginning and your town is next"!

Mike said...

The tower project is full of misconceptions. I do agree with some of the concerns. One of the misconceptions is the (as you put it) "hailer-horns". The horns are not sirens. All they are is local PA horns. If someone is vandalizing or in the tower fenced area, a person in the control room can turn the speaker on and talk to the intruder. As a resident of the "border zone" where these will be placed, I have mixed feelings. As they will be somewhat of an eye sore, so are all of the other communications towers (radio, cellular, etc.) that are popping up.
In the last month I have had to take over 4 truckloads of trash off my property from the invasion. Where we used to have beautiful desert and plants is now a wasteland. I have also had to haul off many dead animals on my property from the invaders killing them either by hand or with all of the trash.
I know there are many concerns about this program. I only hope that something can be done to save our natural habitats in this area before its too late. The number of people that do not care about the environment that come through here is staggering. Please take that into consideration as well.

Sharon E. Herbert said...

You raise very valid points, Mike. Living on the Canadian side of the U.S. border, I cannot imagine the impact of thousands of people crossing the border illegally on a small community and its ecosystem. It's my hope that Arivacans will help inform DHS to shape a better way to secure the borders without unduly impacting the privacy of citizens - whether in the U.S, Mexico or Canada. As millions of Canadians live in communities along the U.S. border, this issue is of great concern to us. Thanks very much for your comment and for adding another perspective to this complex issue.