Virtual Fence Should Not Become a Reality

September 10, 2008 12:00 am

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Wasteful initiative violates privacy of border residents

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WASHINGTON, DC – Today, the House Homeland Security Committee holds a hearing examining what has prevented the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) virtual fence initiative from becoming a reality. The American Civil Liberties Union reaffirms its opposition to the failed and intrusive program that has been besieged with technological difficulties since its inception and calls on Congress to prevent further homeland security resources from being squandered on this effort.

The virtual fence, known as the Secure Border Initiative Network or SBINet, raises serious privacy concerns with its proposed use of technology near the border. The long-range surveillance cameras have the capacity to observe the activities of innocent Americans who live near the border, infringing upon their constitutional right to privacy. The looming guard towers, visible for miles in the spare Southwestern landscape, cast a mood of constant surveillance for U.S. border residents.

Furthermore, SBINet has been riddled with problems from the planning stages. Major media outlets have reported that SBINet’s technology has failed on the ground and the program is billions of dollars over budget. The volatile weather and untamed environment have resulted in fuzzy, unfocused images, rendering the technology unreliable for detecting smugglers but nevertheless leading to privacy invasions into the lives of U.S. citizens. In addition, the communication between the surveillance towers and the command center in Tucson is delayed because of the physical distance between them, creating even more problems for SBINet.

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

“A virtual fence along the U.S. border raises far too many concerns for its implementation to move forward. The cameras being used are incredibly intrusive and the watchtowers serve as a constant reminder of how the Department of Homeland Security has imposed its privacy-infringing regime not outside the U.S. but on millions of Americans living well within its borders. If SBINet is propped up once again by Congress, it will be one large step towards erecting a society under constant governmental surveillance, where individual privacy means very little. But beyond the privacy concerns is the issue of wasting limited homeland security resources on an initiative that has proven itself a failure despite repeated attempts to resuscitate it. Diverting money and manpower away from actual security is not what our nation needs, and it’s not what Americans expect, nor deserve, from their government. Congress should step in and prevent the virtual fence from becoming a reality.”

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