May 11, 2008
The "virtual fence" gains fans

Despite a bad review from the Government Accounting Office, the so-called "virtual fence" managed to impress some Congressfolk recently.

Sections of Texas' border with Mexico eventually could be secured by the same kind of high-tech "virtual fence" that's been deployed in Arizona, key legislators said Friday after touring the state-of-the-art surveillance network.

The comments by two subcommittee chairmen with the House Homeland Security Committee -- Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, and Christopher Carney, D-Pa.-- followed an inspection tour Friday of the $20.6 million virtual fence near Sasabe, Ariz.

The project links high-tech surveillance towers, cameras, radar, ground sensors and unmanned aerial drones along a 28-mile section of the 1,947-mile international border.

"In Texas, there is an outcry and a great deal of conflict over installing physical barriers along the border," said Jackson Lee, chairman of the panel's subcommittee on transportation security and infrastructure protection. "What I have seen here today can be a very effective 21st century tool to secure our borders."

Carney, the chairman of the panel's oversight subcommittee, called the virtual fence "a tremendous concept" that's ready for eventual deployment elsewhere along the border "once we make sure the bugs are ironed out."

Carney, who toured the area with Jackson Lee and five other lawmakers, said the virtual fence was best suited for sparsely inhabited stretches along the border. "If we can ever get the technology to match the dedication of the Border Patrol personnel here, we'll have an impenetrable border," he said.


Jackson Lee said the lawmakers' inspection tour turned her from a skeptic into a believer that the blend of high-tech surveillance and targeted deployment of Border Patrol agents could intercept illegal immigrants and drug traffickers.

Flaws in the system have been slashed from 53 to just four, she said.

"I've changed my assessment because the technology did not work -- and now it does," she said.

I remain skeptical for now. I'll say again that given a choice between this and a physical fence, this "virtual" concept is a million times better, and likely to be a lot cheaper as well. It's still not a fix for what's actually broken with our immigration system, and as such I think it's a mis-prioritization of our resources. But if it helps to appease the fence fetishists out there, it's less objectionable than some other options. That's the best I can say about it at this time.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on May 11, 2008 to National news

This is like the software I was working on for Sarnoff.

It wasn't really ready to use in Baghdad and Afghanistan 2 years ago, but it's coming.

Posted by: Michael on May 11, 2008 7:59 AM