To prevent unauthorized entry at the Southern U.S. – Mexico border, Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) is going virtual. Major companies are collaborating with CBP to bring a hi-tech element to border operations, including Google and Anduril Industries (whose founder, Palmer Luckey, also founded Oculus VR – now owned by Facebook). CBP will soon detect and pinpoint the exact location of any persons or vehicles attempting to cross using AI from mobile solar-powered surveillance towers, drones, and thermal imaging sensors.
The concept of a technological border wall isn’t new. It was first attempted by the Bush Administration when the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) program launched in 2006. The government contracted Boeing to design and develop the digital infrastructure for SBInet’s pilot program Project 28 – a 28-mile stretch of virtual fence in Arizona. Boeing hit some software roadblocks, and after a cost of $1 billion taxpayer dollars, SBInet was abandoned in 2011, after only providing 53 miles of coverage for a 1,954 mile border.
There have been significant advances in technology since SBInet, and exploring these options at the border has received bipartisan support in Washington. Democrats are looking for a cheaper and more efficient solution to the physical barrier the Trump Administration proposed building along the southern border. It would could cost anywhere between $8-12 billion, and Big Tech is looking to cash in. The CBP is standing firm that a physical barrier is still necessary since the virtual wall can detect people crossing the border illegally, but cannot prevent them from doing so.
Civil rights organizations argue that this technology’s emergence and use at the border will create widespread issues throughout society if left unregulated. Many fear that computer risk-assessment programs and the use of facial recognition software will lead to racial profiling, disproportionally affecting people of color. Drone surveillance may be used to track the movements of citizens who work and live in the vicinity of these areas over time. Is the virtual border wall a stepping stone toward increased U.S. government surveillance and violation of its citizen’s human and civil rights?
Only time will tell…
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