Texas Request for Border Surveillance Technology Could Restrict Resident Privacy

The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is evaluating new surveillance technologies to acquire in order to monitor the border with Mexico, which has privacy implications for border residents.

DPS said it is looking for “small, rapidly deployable persistent surveillance systems” to be used on portions of the border that aren’t already covered by surveillance technologies. Companies pitched equipment such as aerostats, motion-sensing cameras, and portable cameras that can be stationed to scan far distances, according to KGBT, a CBS News affiliate in Texas.

DPS is considering deploying aerostats, helium balloons that float thousands of feet off the ground and can monitor areas within a 10- to 20-mile radius, in Starr and Hidalgo counties, although it hasn’t decided how many to buy and exactly where they’d be placed.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection has used aerostats since 1978 in Texas, South Florida, and Puerto Rico. DPS said that the additional aerostats acquired by its department will be used to patch holes between the different agencies’ jurisdictions.

DPS said that the purpose of the surveillance equipment is to track criminal activity along the border and use the real-time recordings in court. However, Texas residents who live in the area might soon be constantly watched by the new technology.

Under CBP policy, the recorded surveillance videos are stored in a database and are destroyed after 30 days. The videos can be accessed only if Border Patrol management requests them and the videos can then be shared with other law enforcement agencies.

DPS said that the safety of Texas residents outweighs the need for privacy.

CBP agents can’t enter private land that’s located more than 25 miles inland of the border without a warrant, but for residents who live less than that distance from the border, CBP agents have the right to search their property without documentation of suspicion, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas.

The aerostats that DPS is considering can see up to 20 miles from where they’re stationed. If the aerostat is positioned at the border, residents within the 20-mark will have to deal with the equivalent of the CBP agent constantly watching their property, which they’re already authorized to do. If the aerostats are stationed more than five miles inland, residents who formerly had increased privacy protections will experience warrantless surveillance.

Clarisa Christiansen, a resident of Tucson, Ariz., wrote about her experiences with Border Patrol in a blog post on the ACLU of Texas website. Christiansen said that to some border residents, Border Patrol already has too much surveillance power.

“Roving patrols are always watching us from the side of the road, and questioning and harassing people,” Christiansen wrote. “It’s like living with an occupying army.”

However, Texas DPS has the ability to institute different policies to ensure the privacy of U.S. citizens. The ACLU of Texas said that DPS should consult with residents before it deploys new surveillance technologies.

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