The Government Is Testing Mass Surveillance on the Border Before Turning It on Americans
Almost every technology developed at the border in the last two decades now exists in local police departments
Border Patrol’s electronic eyes will spot you long before you spot them.
If you walk along the United States border in remote stretches of New Mexico desert, or in the grasslands between North Dakota and Canada, you might not hear the buzz of what could be flying above you: A Predator drone — the same vehicle that has been outfitted to drop bombs over Afghanistan and Iraq. From five miles away, the drone’s cameras can see so well they can tell if you’re wearing a backpack.
If you’re in the Florida Keys, you may be spotted by an altogether different set of eyes in the sky. Up 10,000 feet in the air, a football field-sized zeppelin floats with an array of cameras, sensors, and radar systems so sophisticated that it can track every car, aircraft, and boat within a 200-mile range.
And if you’re near the deserts of southern Arizona, it won’t be hard to notice the 160-foot towers that rise up from the sandy landscape, equipped with advanced thermal imaging that can sense your exact movements from over seven miles away.
Because large portions of the border are so remote, and because U.S. citizens seem more willing to endorse surveillance programs that specifically target non-citizens, American borderlands have become a testing ground for cutting-edge surveillance tech.
To call this technology “Orwellian” would be anachronistic. Even George Orwell, for all his dreary imagining, never conceived of an infrared camera that could detect a person’s faintest movements.
Even as privacy hawks on the left and the right warn about the government’s embrace of surveillance tech, it’s been impossible to stop the fast-accelerating development of new infrastructure. President Donald Trump and Democrats in Congress might clash over the need for a border wall, but there’s a growing consensus in Washington that the country needs a “virtual wall.” The terms for this concept vary: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi calls it a “technological wall”; other members of Congress have…