Texas Proposes Internet-Connected Border Cameras

Seeking to use a novel approach to the problem of patrolling the lengthy border between the U.S. and Mexico, Texas Gov. Rick Perry has proposed using remote cameras that would be connected to the Internet, allowing regular citizens the opportunity to help watch for border-jumpers.

Perry has proposed spending US$5 million to install surveillance cameras along the border between Texas and Mexico and in doing so, is injecting a technological element into an already heated debate over immigration issues.

Resident Rangers

The Republican governor, who is running for re-election later this year, said hundreds of night-vision equipped cameras would be installed, with most trained on “hot spots” known for criminal activity and unauthorized border crossings.

Live feeds would be posted on publicly accessible Internet sites and residents who watch the feeds would be encouraged to call a toll-free number to report what they’ve seen.

“A stronger border is what the American people want, that is what our security demands, and that is what Texas is going to deliver,” Perry said. “By leveraging advanced video technology and the power of the World Wide Web, and with an increased financial commitment from the state of Texas, we can make our border stronger and our nation safer.”

Alternative Solution

Perry’s solution would address what many Republicans see as a major shortcoming in the policies the U.S. now has in place regarding illegal immigration: the relative porosity of the border with Mexico, which stretches for some 1,951 miles between San Diego and Brownsville, Texas.

Though President Bush has vowed stepped up border patrols and a group of border state governors has signed onto a plan to use National Guard troops to augment existing personnel, even supporters of such plans admit completely stopping crossings is all but impossible.

Perry’s plan would essentially deputize millions of Americans, though some were quick to question whether even with high-speed Web technology, a remote user could notice and report a border violation in time enough for an effective law enforcement response.

The proposal comes at a time when federal lawmakers are grappling with various pieces of legislation aimed at addressing immigration issues, with some offering illegal immigrants pathways to becoming naturalized citizens — a recognition of the importance of immigrant populations to the nation’s economy, supporters say — and others embracing a strict law enforcement approach.

Familiar Territory

Perry’s idea will likely face a range of opposition, including questions about its effectiveness and complaints from privacy advocates. Other worries may include potential vigilantism, with those who notice border crossings taking matters into their own hands.

Technology has been at the center of other national debates dealing with immigration and related issues, especially after Sept. 11, 2001. Lawmakers have proposed a national ID card program, some suggesting biometric solutions such as fingerprint readers to assure individual identities were protected.

The Web camera idea is technologically sound, given advances in remote surveillance tools and the rise of broadband usage that makes real-time video streaming even to remote areas possible, but the border patrol plan will likely have its hurdles to cross.

Cisco recently unveiled Web-based video surveillance tools to add to its information security products, Gartner analyst John Pescatore noted. However, such tools, widely used in retail and other settings, such as casinos, are usually only as good as those using them, he said. “Such security enhancements work best when used by trained security professionals who know what they’re looking for,” he added.

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