Congress, Don’t Give DHS Unrestricted Authority to Build a 'Smart Wall'

On Thursday, House Democrats unveiled their proposal for a $55 billion Department of Homeland Security budget. The proposal includes some strong provisions — including no funding for a border wall, no new Border Patrol agents, and a requirement for Immigration and Customs Enforcement to cut its detention of immigrants and phase out the jailing of immigrant families. But there are also a number of troubling elements, chief among them is reportedly $400 million for U.S. Customs and Border Protection to invest in additional border technology, likely in an effort to build what many legislators have dubbed as the “smart wall.”  This funding does not even include the additional money in the proposal for technology devoted to ports of entry, biometrics, and other immigration enforcement efforts.

Let’s be clear: With CBP already getting an all-time high of $196 million dollars for border security procurement and development alone, legislators should be looking for ways to cut funding and rein in ICE and CBP’s ability to carry out the Trump administration’s excessive and draconian enforcement efforts. They should certainly not be rewarding the agency with additional technology funding.

But, even if legislators are able to string together existing funds for additional border security technology, they should be very wary of granting DHS unrestricted access to funds for a “smart wall.” Here’s why: 

DHS cannot be trusted to adopt appropriate safeguards on its own to prevent rights violations.  

In the past, we have seen cases of DHS deploying drones and piloting biometric programs without sufficient privacy protections or standards. For example, CBP is testing biometric face recognition at 13 major airports, but it failed to put in place basic privacy measures, clarify how travelers can exercise their right to opt-out, or provide information regarding the extent to which the technology is being used for purposes unrelated to ID verification.  

DHS has a history of wasting money on technology that does not work. 

DHS has a poor track record when it comes to responsible and effective technology deployment. For example, in 2006, DHS began piloting a program called Secure Border Initiative Network (SBInet) to target illegal border crossings. The goal was simple: to create a “virtual border fence” of surveillance video cameras, radar, and ground sensors along the U.S.-Mexico border. But after almost four years and more than $1 billion spent, DHS finally decided to pull the project citing a new vision for surveillance. 

In the aftermath of the SBInet project, a Government Accountability Office report found that DHS’ inability to understand and manage potential costs “contributed to the program’s failure to live up to expectations and to it costing more and taking longer than was necessary.” 

There have been similar problems with the CBP drone program.  The agency inspector general has called drones “dubious achievers,” noting in one report that CBP had yet to prove their value and had drastically understated the costs.

There’s no indication that this time will be any different. After all, the agency has yet to release the comprehensive border security strategy, as required by law, to demonstrate how and whether new technology will support a larger strategy.  

Border technology is often used miles from the physical border, impacting U.S. residents. 

CBP claims the authority to conduct warrantless searches and seizures not just at the physical border but within 100 miles of any land or water border.  Unfortunately, CBP use of technology has extended away from the physical border and for purposes that have nothing to do with securing the border. For example, DHS has utilized drones outside border and coastal areas, flown them for non-patrol purposes, and conducted surveillance on behalf of other agencies like ICE and the FBI.  

Not all technologies — or their privacy risks — are created equal. 

The Democratic proposal provides few details about what technology can be funded.  And not all technologies — if used with appropriate safeguards — infringe on privacy and civil liberties. However, past border proposals have suggested expanding warrantless and broad aerial surveillance, constant video monitoring, or biometric collection

Warrantless use of these technologies comes at an unacceptably high cost.  They allow the government to track, surveil, and monitor individuals indiscriminately and with precise detail. Individuals in the border zone should not be subject to near-constant surveillance that intrudes on the most intimate aspects of their lives. 

It is imperative that Congress not leave it to DHS to determine what privacy safeguards are necessary for the use of certain technologies. Any funding bill should limit data collection, require prompt purging of information, prohibit sharing of information for other purposes, and require privacy rulemaking where appropriate. Similar to the approach taken with past TSA programs, Congress should ensure strong oversight and accountability by requiring an independent entity, such as the General Accountability Office, to certify that the technology meets the criteria for effectiveness and fairness prior to deployment. Further, any funding legislation should make clear that technology can only be used at the physical border and for purposes that are limited to border security, and it should prohibit additional deployment of any invasive technologies, such as warrantless and broad aerial surveillance, constant video monitoring, or biometric collection.

As Rep. Hal Rogers, former Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, once said, border security is a “mini-industrial complex” that “we’re going to have to guard against … every step of the way.”  DHS already has a history of using technology wastefully, irresponsibly, and in a way that tramples on the privacy rights of border communities.  Congress shouldn’t be complicit in helping it once again waste taxpayers’ dollars while simultaneously undermining the rights of people on the border.

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Anonymous

Our porous borders and overwhelmed asylum system DOES NOT help Central Americans. Even under the Obama Administration about 85% of the asylum claims of Central Americans were denied amd then what?

When Central Americans come to the USA they quit their jobs, sell homes and businesses, and/or go into debt with gangs/cartels to pay smuggling fees. When they are eventually deported they go back tp nothing and may still be in debt to organized crime.

In the meantime, the gangs and cartels have used the money they've made from human trafficking and other criminal activities to become more powerful and buy off more politicians. In short, our current system just strings Central Americans along for a few years for the benefit of cartels, politicians, advocates, bondsmen, and ATTORNEYS.

If you really cared about Central Americans you would quit with the petty squabbles and demand that Congress fix our asylum system. All the grey areas and loopholes do is make it easy to string Central Americans along and profit from them. They should know, before they leave their homes, whether they will qualify or not so that if the answer is "not" they don't sell everything ang go into debt.

Anonymous

Do you have any recommendations for how to stop unauthorized people from coming into the country through the Southern border?

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

People always get their knickers in a twist when I recommend a mine field along our southern border.

Anonymous

Good. We do nees to stop illegal immigrants. Bit lets streamline immigration. If you show a demonstrated need. You are welcome. If you bring value to this Great Nation, you are welcome.

Dom LaViola

You should search the web for the following terms: "DHS STASI", "DHS MARKUS WOLFE" & "DHS KGB"

You will learn DHS was built by them. The very people our FBI, CIA, NSA, ETC protected us from for forty years of the cold war, put thier own people in the top spots of our government, and as the central umbrella agency under which all law enforcement, all federal agencies, and all US intelligence agencies they essentially took over control of the United States. They just haven't told anyone yet.

That's why DHS gets away with anything they do...including murdering Americans because they can turn a murder into a suicide in the blink of an eye.

For three years I have screamed from mountaintops to the media, law enforcement and elected officials that I have evidence of things that are on a level of national security importance, including DHS personnel working as for hire assassins that are EAST GERMAN STASI. I can prove they hacked the FBIs criminal information systems...they even shot me with a PEP weapon of some type...and no one would investigate any of it. No one would take a report. No one would as much as look at the evidence I have..and as I was ignored my life...every aspect of my life was systematically destroyed in classic STASI fashion.

They stole my home from me. Hacked my websites hundreds of times until I lost every single one of what had been one million readers per month.

They stole my intellectual property and hacked the USPTO to kill my Patent app after they stole it.

The only shot I had was an SEC whistleblower award I was supposed to have a decision on 2 1/2 years ago...but the sec is changing the rules, applying then to all pending claims such as mine, and using that as a means to render my award eligible claims ineligible...

I took them to Court. The SEC CONFESSED to this and other frauds! The court denied my petition, regardless.

The wall is not to keep anyone out....it's to keep us in ...and enslaved. They hate all Americans. The 6 million Jews they murdered were white,bug they're using white supremacists to establish thier military here...those that are helping them will be thier first victims....not an organized militia that could impede this invasion of the US.

There is some hope .CONGRESS needs to immediately shut down DHS, and start looking at all the clean cut,perfect English speaking soldiers they've snuck in while focusing everyone's attention on Mexico. G Hey think we are "stupid Americans" and thus far they appear to be correct as they point and say look over there will sneaking thier people in behind you..

If Congress won't do it..and let's face it they're all pussies up there that can't agree that blue is a color....then the Dept of Defense needs to take control of the nation until a new government can be established,...a xo- over that we can get right this time ..

DHS hasn't amassed a cache of weapons large enough for multiple army brigsdes for nothing...and the weapons are not for OUR army. They're for fhiers...the invasion of the us will come from within...while our service personnel are half a world away...or just sitting ducks on to the southern border while they invade every US city one morning ...

Believing me when won't help any.

Anonymous

You must admit theres a certain irony on a section named "speak freely" and the comment returns ”Your comment has been queued for review by site administrators and will be published after approval."...lol...free speech eh? Even here....it's already over...they won.

Ms. Gloria Anasyrma

They censor my comments here all the time and they are not as vulgar and hateful as some of the others I see.

Anonymous

The Democrats are a bunch of ass wipes, watch those greedy son of b******s turn on each other trying to become the next President, they can't be trusted none of them, I was a Democrat for 35 yrs. never again, they have turned on Black America for votes from illegal immigrants but have no fear Democrats Black America has finally awakened to your tricks now all the hand outs are for the illegals. They will eventually get your tricks to but they are going along with it now because it's benefiting them believe me the illegals have more tricks then you do, Hollywood and the media is a big part of this BULL.

Anonymous

Thank you for your deplorable opinion.

Anonymous

Give Trump the money! This country is getting raped by illegal immigration!

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