Thursday, May 17, 2007

U.S. Border Surveillance Goes High Tech

A high-tech network of nine surveillance towers in Arizona is the first of many more like it to be erected as part of the U.S.’s Secure Border Initiative, the National Post reported today. Residents of the small town with the dubious distinction of serving as a pilot for this initiative are up in arms about the government’s ability to observe and record every public activity in their ordinary lives.

"It's like Big Brother. It will place the whole town under surveillance," said C Hues, a community activist, as residents gathered for a meeting late Tuesday with customs and border patrol representatives.

"The government will be able to watch and record every movement we make, 24 hours a day. It will be like living in a prison yard," she added.

In 2006, over 1 million people were arrested for illegally attempting to cross the Mexican border into the United States. One of the towers to be constructed just south of the town will be 30-metres (98 feet) high and topped with cameras and radar. Images and video captured at the tower will be streamed live to troupers on the ground, along with GPS coordinates.

The ability to monitor the activities of the residents of one town of 1500 may not be a big concern to many people. But the Secure Border Initiative isn’t limited to the little town of Arivaca, Arizona. Over the next few years, similar networks of towers, with cameras and radar will be constructed along over 10,000 kilometres (6,213 miles) of the Mexican and Canadian borders. Conceivably, hundreds of thousands of residents along the borders of all three countries may come under the scrutiny of these cameras.

It isn’t a stretch to be concerned about how this recorded information could be used, given the recent experience of Andrew Feldmar who was barred from entering the U.S. after a border guard googled his name and didn’t like what he read. The residents of Arivaca, Arizona are fighting the construction of the massive surveillance network in their town and I hope that other Americans will be just as alarmed about this attack on privacy.

In the meantime, how will the Mexican and Canadian governments respond to cross-border surveillance of their citizens? Will our right to privacy be traded away in the name of U.S. national security?


J. Otto Pohl said...

Thanks for posting this. I live in Arivaca and have been trying to follow the story on my blog. I am going to post a link to your post.

Sharon E. Herbert. said...

Thanks very much for the link to your site and the local reaction. I'll be continuing to follow this story.