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New Surveillance Tech Comes to the Border

Posted by Matthew Green | Oct 10, 2014 | 0 Comments

For a long time, portions of a fence were the only technology marking the border through thousands of miles of the southwest of the United States. However, with recent advances, the US-Mexico border is becoming a high tech testing ground.  With body cameras and surveillance balloons, the border patrol states the technology will help in securing the borders, but will these changes have any real effects on the ground?

As of October 1, 2014, the border patrol will be testing body cameras for agents in their New Mexico training facility.  Body cameras are small, wearable cameras mounted on an officer's vest or shirt, that can record an agent's viewpoint and interaction with other people. Some police departments, including the New York Police Department, have already begun using the wearable technology.

Cameras could be used to facilitate investigations, and provide evidence on behalf of, or against a law enforcement agency.  Although, according to a Justice Department report, “the presence of cameras often improves the performance of officers as well as the conduct of the community members who are recorded.”

Former Seattle police chief, and current Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Commissioner R. Gil Kerlikowske, has reacted to the many charges of excessive force against the CBP, in introducing cameras for border agents.  However, the border patrol union has concerns about the use of the cameras against the agents.

Criticism regarding the lack of transparency surrounding CBP actions have been increasing, with claims of excessive use of force.  Kerlikowske said the cameras are “part of a larger effort to hold the workforce accountable for maintaining a high standard of integrity and aligning CBP with law enforcement best practices throughout the country.

Other technology is also being utilized by CBP.  The border patrol has even requested  license plate scanner records in their investigations.  In addition, a number of surveillance balloons are being set up along the border.  The balloons called aerosats, came from military surplus used by the US in the Middle East, and can zoom in on cars or people from miles away.

The Border Patrol placed five surveillance balloons, or “sky cameras,” in the area of the Rio Grande Valley over the past year.  More aerosats may be coming to the border, to be placed in areas of high traffic. However, some critics, including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have expressed concern over the cameras as a threat to freedom and privacy.

In addition to the balloons, along several points on the border, surveillance towers are being set up to track movement up to six miles away.  CBP will build six towers along Interstate 19 here in southern Arizona.  If successful, more towers may be come.  However, some of those towers are planned not just for the borders, but far inland, including in Casa Grande which is about 80 miles from the border.

So far, the balloons have been deployed in only a limited area along the nearly 2,000 mile border between the US and Mexico.  Tower surveillance is also in its preliminary stages.  And for now, the wearable cameras will be in limited use in training agents, without plans yet to require cameras for all 21,000 Border Patrol agents.  Proponents of the technology claim the advancements will help agents, and even save the lives of immigrants in danger.  Others are concerned that the extensive surveillance presents a risk to individual's privacy rights. However, for now, it is too early to say how, or even if the Border Patrol's increased technology will affect immigration along the border.

About the Author

Matthew Green

Managing Partner. Green | Evans-Schroeder (formerly Law Offices of Matthew H. Green) focuses on the aggressive defense of immigrants. A native of Arizona, Mr. Green understands the difficulties that immigrants and families of immigrants face when a loved one is charged with a crime. He knows how frightening it can be for some...


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