27 Groups Call on Congress to Deny ‘Smart Wall’ Funding

A Border Patrol agent walks towards prototypes for a border wall Feb. 5 in San Diego.

A Border Patrol agent walks towards prototypes for a border wall Feb. 5 in San Diego. Gregory Bull/AP

Groups are speaking out against a congressional proposal to up spending on surveillance tech on the border.

More than two dozen civil liberties, tech and immigration organizations signed an open letter to Congress Tuesday opposing the House Democratic conferees Jan.29 proposal for Smart, Effective Border Security.

The letter, published on Medium, takes issue with the proposal’s call for “new cutting edge technologies,” including facial recognition, biometrics, automatic license plate readers and other surveillance tech that could be employed under the $1.6 billion proposal.

House Democratic conferees’ proposal also calls for “an expansion of Customs and Border Protection’s air and marine operations along the border,” which the letter said could allow government aircraft and unmanned drones “the power to capture faces and license plates” of people near the border.

“Congress should be reviewing and limiting existing border surveillance programs, not providing additional funding for dangerous technologies that infringe on our basic rights,” said Evan Greer, a lead organizer of the campaign with Fight for the Future, in a statement.

The open letter was signed by 27 organizations, including the privacy-focused Electronic Frontier Foundation, civil rights-focused ACLU, immigration groups RAICES and Mijente, and conservative groups Campaign for Liberty and Constitutional Alliance.

Federal agencies at the border already employ a variety of emerging technologies.

CBP, for example, began employing facial recognition biometrics six months ago at 15 international airports and two land-border crossings. As travelers enter the U.S., they are ushered directly to a CBP official, who checks their documentation while overhead cameras match their faces to a gallery of images. For U.S. citizens, the picture is matched to the passport photo on file. If the photos don’t match, the travel is pulled aside for further investigation. As of November, CBP officials apprehended 26 alleged imposters entering the country.

As it stands, Congress and the Trump administration remained at odds over border funding. Should both sides fail to reach a deal by Feb. 15, another government shutdown would be triggered.

NEXT STORY: A Touch of Green in Outer Space