ACLU Answers Congress’ Question ‘Can SBI Succeed?’: No

October 24, 2007 12:00 am

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Washington, DC – Congress asked today in a committee hearing appropriately called “The Future of Border Security: Can SBINet succeed?” and the American Civil Liberties Union has a definitive answer: No. Even Department of Homeland Security Director Michael Chertoff himself has admitted the program has problems, calling it “unsatisfactory.”

Two subcommittees of the Homeland Security Committee – one that focuses on border security and the other that focuses on oversight – posed the question today to government officials responsible for the embattled SBINet, a ‘virtual’ border fence that relies on sensors and long-range cameras atop high observation towers.

SBINet, shorthand for “Secure Border Initiative Network,” raises serious privacy concerns. The long-range surveillance cameras are capable of observing the activities of everyday Americans living along the border, disrupting the daily lives of ordinary people. The looming guard towers, visible for miles in the spare Southwestern landscape, casts a mood of constant surveillance for border residents.

SBINet has been riddled with problems from the planning stages, and now the program is in more serious trouble than ever. Major media outlets have reported that SBINet’s technology has failed on the ground and the program is billions of dollars in the red. The volatile weather and untamed environment have resulted in fuzzy, unfocused images, and the technology is incapable of doing the tasks it was created to do. In addition, the communication between the surveillance towers and the command center in Tucson is delayed because of the physical distance, creating even more problems with SBINet.

The following can be attributed to Tim Sparapani, ACLU Senior Legislative Counsel:

“SBINet is not a realistic alternative – it’s Big Brother at the border. Asking whether SBINet can succeed is not a question at all: in the end the only answer is no. We cannot let our government police the border by remote control. We cannot allow guard towers to go up like high rises, and we cannot allow the government to enter our homes through surveillance cameras. Our government should not spend billions of dollars on untested technology that in the end doesn’t work. Our government must examine the practical realities of programs like SBINet before billions of dollars are spent to develop them – and SBINet needs to be scrapped before the government wastes billions more.”

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