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Dems are pushing tech alternatives to a 1,900-mile wall.

"Mittie Getz" (2020-08-21)


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US agents patrol the border between Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, and Santa Teresa, New Mexico.


Herika Martinez/Getty Images


Since 2015, President Donald Trump has promised to build a "big, beautiful wall" along the 1,950-mile US border with Mexico: a 20- to 30-foot high concrete wall/steel fence he says will stem illegal immigration, keep out illicit drugs and stop terrorists from entering the country.

Critics say a physical barrier is unnecessary and ineffective, and they argue that modern tech could do the job instead at a lower cost. Which is how we got to the recent 35-day shutdown, the longest in US government history. Trump insists on Congress budgeting $5.7 billion for a wall, while Democrats push for high-tech border protections.

"The positive, shall we say, almost technological wall that can be built is what we should be doing," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference in January. She's proposed spending "hundreds of millions of dollars" for tech to scan for drugs and weapons and detect people attempting to cross the border.

Pelosi's office didn't respond to a request for an interview. Neither she nor her Democratic allies have specified which technologies they'd like to fund.




























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Border security: Tech options that could replace a wall






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On Wednesday, House Democrats unveiled a new border security plan that contains no money for physical barriers along the southern US border.

"We've seen that walls can and will be tunneled under, cut through or scaled," Rep. Pete Aguilar, from California, told The Washington Post. "We cannot focus on archaic solutions in order to address this very modern problem. Technology works for securing the border."

So what are we talking about? Smart wall systems could comprise technologies ranging from infrared and laser-enhanced cameras, drones, sensors and radar to artificial intelligence. There's also imaging technology that scans vehicles for drugs as they pass through official border crossings.

But these approaches could too easily violate our privacy, security and civil liberties, according to tech companies and the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU described security technologies as "ineffective" and warned that "programs intended for border security purposes have had a tendency to expand toward the rest of the country."

Here are the most likely technologies that could be used on the border in place of, or in addition to, a wall.

Sensors

Sensor technology is now small enough to embed in a car, allowing it to power self-driving test vehicles.

Advocates say today's sensors could be used on the border.

One company, Quanergy, says one of its products relies on lidar, which uses pulsed light to measure distances and generate detailed images, to scan for movements. Quanergy says its products can tell the difference between a person and an animal.

Given that the border stretches 1,950 miles, the project might require more than 15,000 sensors. At an estimated $250 per sensor, the price tag could amount to $3.7 million, or less than 1 percent of Trump's border wall ask.

Then there's Anduril, a 2-year-old startup that's building sensor-packed towers filled with radar, laser-enhanced cameras and communications antennas. Together, the sensors, cameras and antennas can detect objects from two miles away and identify the difference between people and animals, the company says.

Anduril is headed by Palmer Luckey, the 26-year-old co-founder of Oculus VR . Now in his second act, he's hoping to "rebuild the bridge between the tech and defense communities."

His technology, called , is already being tested by (CBP). In a 10-week span, it helped agents catch 55 unauthorized border crossers and seize 982 pounds of marijuana, according to a 2018 Wired .Anduril's and Quanergy's technologies could potentially augment an existing program created by Elbit Systems, an Israeli company that's reportedly built carrying radar as well as daylight and infrared cameras that can capture images from 7.5 miles away, according to a report by Bloomberg. The contract, awarded in 2014 for $145 million, has been called by CBP. DronesDrones can use combinations of cameras, lasers and heat sensors. They've also been tested in war zones by the US military and by firefighters