Privacy Groups Pan 'Surveillance' Wall Option

While some high-profile Democrats have been arguing for a high-tech "wall-less" wall along the border with Mexico in an attempt to find some common political ground on border protection, some typical Democratic allies on the activist group front are concerned about invasions of another kind and pushing back hard on what they see as unwarranted surveillance.

Among those signing on to the letter were Fight for the Future, Demand Progress, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Demand Progress, the ACLU and the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

Tuesday morning (Feb. 5), on the eve of a State of the Union address by President Trump that is expected to dwell heavily on the state of the border and the need for security, more than two dozen civil liberties groups and immigrant organizations issued an open letter to Congress asking that they not make funding for surveillance technologies--algorithmic assessments, facial recognition, biometrics--part of any "grand compromise."

The President has threatened to declare a national emergency and fund the wall himself, though his definition of "wall" has been finesses somewhat to include fencing and other measures, though he appears convinced of the supremacy of physical barriers.

House Democrats proposed the surveillance approach rather than the wall, which they have argued would be ineffective and send the wrong message for a country one of whose iconic symbols is the Statue of Liberty signaling the country is a golden door to huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

Among their issues are the opportunity for mass surveillance, risk-based targeting that often means bias-based targeting. the use of license plate readers beyond the border, and more.

The groups also want the Congress to conduct "robust oversight"--something the Democrat-controlled House has already pledged to do, generally-over government surveillance technologies already in use.

They see funding new surveillance technology as the camel's nose--or in this case the drone's noes--under the tent. 

"We know that the border is often a testing ground for surveillance technology that is later deployed throughout the United States," they wrote. "Ubiquitous surveillance technology poses a serious threat to human rights and constitutional liberties. We call on Congress not to expand these invasive programs with new funding."

John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.