Donald Trump's promise to build a wall along the American/Mexican border aided his ride to victory last November. “I will build a great, great wall on our southern border," Trump said, "and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”
That rhetoric alerted major security companies that a windfall may be coming their way in the form of the what could be billions of dollars set aside to shore-up border security. All these companies have to do is convince the administration that the there’s newer technology that can do the job better and cheaper.
Walls have been used to keep out unwanted visitors for thousands of years; from the Sumerians’ Amorite Wall built in the 21 century B.C. to the, Great Wall of China, which began in the 3rd century B.C. Israel, Hungary, and Macedonia all built walls that are moderately successful in block access to intruders. But is this the best method in 2017?
Border walls are ineffective when it comes to keeping people out. When faced with a wall, most people simply find another route — over, under or around — some of them finding more dangerous routes than others. This is an argument posed by security vendors trying to sell their technology at the annual Border Security Expo, held in San Antonio, Texas in April. The surging effort to "fix" the border could benefit the pockets of the tech companies, and they know it. On display in the exhibition hall were the latest and greatest surveillance and reconnaissance technology available in the world today, from drones, facial recognition technology and license plate readers to biometric readers and specialized camera and audio systems.
Of the vendors present, most don’t think the wall is the best option to secure our borders, believing surveillance technology will be cheaper and more effective. According to an NPR report, there where were no construction companies, or anything that resembled a wall there.
Technology already had a turn at securing American borders but the Secure Border Initiative (SBINet) failed to live up to standards. A 2010 report titled "Fallacies of High-Tech Fixes for Border Security" by the Center for International Policy, says relying on technology to answer the border problem was a “faulty assumption." There’s more than 6000 miles of American borders to cover and SBINet lacked the foundation of success for stopping border crossings. And that was not the only time technology failed to secure the border. Between the years 1997 thru 2006, The Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security spent over $400 million on the Integrated Surveillance Intelligent System (ISIS) and the American Shield Initiative, both projects coming to an end amid accusations of corruption and lack of oversight, as well as technological failures.
Whether we will use modern software/hardware technology or just build a wall, there’s one thing for sure: The current administration is taking a posture that will open the door for this subset of the tech industry to flourish far beyond border security — this growth will spread into the private sector and could permeate society. Providing equipment to protect thousands of border land is driving these companies to churn out surveillance innovation that the world had never experienced before.
We should keep an eye on the advancements in surveillance technology. As it becomes more ubiquitous privacy wanes. The question we have to ask ourselves is how much freedom and privacy we’re willing to give up for something that may or may not protect us in return.
Thomas Russell is a high school information technology teacher and retired Army Signal Corps soldier. He is the founder of SEMtech (Student Engagement and Mentoring in Technology) and an Advisory Board Member of Educating Children of Color. His hobbies include writing, photography and hiking. Contact Thomas via Russell’s Room on Facebook, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org, and his photography at thomasholtrussell.zenfolio.com.