June 15, 2006

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C:\Run for the border
Illegal immigration, the Internet and you
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

Normally in a technology column, “security” refers to encryption keys or firewalls. This time, it’s border security.
Yeah, that border. The one getting National Guard reinforcement. The one crossed by thousands of hopeful workers daily. The Mexican border.

Texas Governor Rick Perry, annoyed at getting too little from the national Department of Homeland Security, is implementing a program that lets citizens take part in preventing unauthorized border crossings. Not just Texas citizens, either — anyone with access to the Web.

Webcams will be placed on the properties of participating ranchers in strategic locations along the 1,254 mile border at an estimated cost of $5 million. (New Mexico, Arizona and California add another 700 miles.) You log on to a Web site, pick which camera to watch and enjoy your popcorn. If you see illegal activity, just call the 1-800 number to report it to the authorities.

It’s all part of a $20 million plan to beef up enforcement in Texas. The funds will also pay for vehicles, night vision goggles, more officer time and body armor.

The Web site address has not been announced yet. Very little has, in fact. The plan isn’t fully fleshed out yet, and more details (night vision capability? audio enabled? BB guns on top of each camera?) will emerge in the months to come.

The idea of outsourcing security to, well, anybody who’s bored and has a computer, certainly has its merits. We could even apply it to all manner of law enforcement.

• Traffic cameras. Running red lights, speeding, skipping tolls — all are problems that cameras are supposed to help, but often, an offender is able to escape fines or other consequences by demanding to “confront his accuser.” That’s a right people have in court, and when the accuser is an electronic device that records data, well, there’s not much cross-examination you can do there. Send video over the Web, though, and anyone can watch any intersection at any time. Then there’s an actual witness who will surely be willing to sit and point at some ruffian trying to weasel out of a ticket.

• Supermarkets. How often have you “sampled” one or two grapes before bagging them up? You don’t have to admit it to me, but admit it to yourself. With cameras installed at the market, you can snoop on others doing the same thing. Only they get busted by your mad webcam-watchin’ skillz.

• Canada. You know they want into our primo state. Sneaky Canucks.

• Home. Why should surveillance be confined to public spaces? Keep an eye on your kids or pets while you’re at work, and when you’re away from your computer, don’t worry, there’s an entire Internet of well-meaning, not at all creepy people doing the same. Heck, they could sell televisions with a camera behind the screen!

Of course, as usual, anyone who’s doing nothing wrong will have nothing to worry about. Me, I don’t even like grapes.


Comments? Thoughts? Discuss these articles and more at hippoflea.com

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