The Trump administration has awarded a contract to a California-based tech startup to set up hundreds of “autonomous surveillance towers” along the U.S.-Mexico border, The Hill reports.
This will reportedly aid Trump’s immigration enforcement efforts.
The deal is reportedly worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The company itself that specializes in AI and other technologies is valued at $1.9 billion, according to Bloomberg.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) announced the towers use artificial intelligence and imagery to identify people and vehicles.
200 towers are expected to be deployed along the southern border by 2022.
The Washington Post reported that the effort includes a five-year agreement with Anduril Industries, a tech startup backed by investors such as Peter Thiel.
Anduril CEO Brian Schimpf said, “Anduril is proud to support U.S. Customs and Border Protection as it expands its use of innovative technology solutions to greatly improve situational awareness and agent safety along the U.S. border.”
The Hill reports that many Democratic lawmakers called for the building of “virtual” or “smart” walls that utilized new technologies to strengthen security.
Border Patrol Chief Rodney Scott said the towers give agents “a significant leg up against the criminal networks that facilitate illegal cross-border activity.”
“The more our agents know about what they encounter in the field, the more safely and effectively they can respond,” Scott said.
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CBP said that the towers use renewable energy and are well-suited for remote and rural locations. The technology is said to scan environments with radar to detect movement. Among other things, the system can alert Border Patrol agents of location information when it detects movement from vehicles or people. Anduril claims that it distinguishes between animals and humans 97 percent of the time, the Post noted.
The system is reportedly best suited for remote areas with few people and does not use facial recognition technology.
Matthew Steckman, Anduril’s chief revenue officer, told the Post that the company is prepared to continue working on this type of technology in concert with U.S. border officials regardless of the outcome of the 2020 presidential election.
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“No matter where we go as a country, we’re going to need to have situational awareness on the border,” Steckman said. “No matter if talking to a Democrat or a Republican, they agree that this type of system is needed.”
While the use of a “virtual” wall has gained support from Republicans and Democrats, some have raised issues with the plans.
“The last thing we need is more money funneled to a ‘virtual wall’ by an agency that has a history of wasting taxpayer money on technology that doesn’t work and violates our rights,” American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Senior Legislative Counsel Neema Singh Guliani said in a statement to The Hill.
“Far too often, we have seen this agency use the pretext of the border to extend an unacceptable invasive surveillance infrastructure at the border deep into the country, including during the most recent protests,” she added.