US-Mexico Border: An Invisible WallBy Cinthya Alaniz Salazar | Fri, 09/10/2021 - 16:24
Virtual-reality cameras and sensors mounted on watch poles, known as Autonomous Surveillance Towers (ASTs), are being installed along the 2,000-mile-long US-Mexico border to form an intelligent and imperceivable border wall, reports the US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). The move sets a concerning precedent in the digitalization of border security.
Powered by solar energy, these AST towers utilize VR cameras coupled with radar technology to capture and share real-time data within their 2-mile radius with border patrol agents 24 hours a day. The VR cameras are able to “autonomously identify items of interest, such as people or vehicles,” by processing recorded images through algorithms according to a statement from US CBP, which plans to deploy 140 cameras to create a virtual wall along the border.
The AST towers developed by Palmer Luckey, developer of Facebook’s Oculus VR and Oculus Rift, were originally tested in 2018 along the San Diego border. After been deemed successful, they have been reportedly placed in strategic locations that are difficult to reach by border patrol agents, CBP agent Joel Freeland told The Post. “Before the ASTs, agents would only be able to monitor about a quarter of the area from their trucks,” said Freeland. “Now, we can see everything.”
Recently, these cameras were also implemented in one of the busiest crossing points for migrants along the border, El Paso, Texas. Since then, agents in El Paso have reportedly detained 155,892 people in 2021, almost triple the 54,396 people detained in 2020. However, CBP officials did not clarify how many people detained this year were apprehended using the AST technology towers, so their efficacy rate is still unknown to the public.
Although reporters were aware that the technology was coming to the US-Mexico border since January—as outlined in a shared and official factsheet—the news may come to a surprise to hopeful migrant groups that have been making their way through Mexico from Nicaragua and Honduras. As repeatedly shown, increased border security stands to make the migration process more dangerous for migrants and refugees alike, and now confronted with technological applications this stands only to exacerbate their vulnerability to human trafficking.
Moreover, there still many questions regarding the implementation of these technologies including what CBP and the US DHS will do with the images captured with these towers or if they would be stored at all. Overall, the move stands to set precedent for other countries to follow suit in the digitalization of border security what implications this will have remain to be seen.