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Don’t replace wall with ‘invasive surveillance tech,’ say civil liberties groups

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Border funding discussions are going on right now

Night Fall On US-Mexico Border Photo by John Moore/Getty Images

Over two dozen technology and human rights organizations published an open letter to congressional leaders this morning requesting that they refuse to fund any “invasive surveillance technology” at the southern border.

A border wall was a significant part of President Trump’s campaign platform, and over the past few weeks, the White House has put increasing pressure on Congress to deliver funding for the wall. Last month, the nation’s longest government shutdown was put to an end after President Trump and Democrats agreed to open the government for an additional three weeks, allowing for them to discuss border funding without leaving hundreds of thousands of government employees without a paycheck.

After the stop-gap spending bill was approved, members of Congress have begun to discuss a potential deal that would not include funding for an all-encompassing southern border wall, but would support the use of technology as a substitute that some critics have argued is too invasive.

In the letter, groups like Fight for the Future, the American Civil Liberties Union, and the Electronic Frontier Foundation call on congressional leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) to not include funding for solutions like facial recognition tech or the collection of immigrant biometric or genetic data.

“The House Democratic Conferees Proposal for Smart, Effective Border Security calls for funding various invasive surveillance technologies that would intrude on the liberties of travelers, immigrants, and people who live near the border,” the coalition wrote. “Given that funding of border enforcement is already at a historic high, we do not believe that additional funding is needed to further fund border technology.”

The deadline to approve funding for the fiscal year is quickly approaching. If the White House and Congress can’t agree on a solution by February 15th, the government will shut down again.

Homeland Security has been expanding the use of facial recognition tech at the border since Trump took office, largely in connection with the Biometric Exit mandate. Last year, US Customs and Border Protection began to fully implement a new system that scanned drivers’ faces as they left the country. The same technology is being deployed at airports for visa holders and US citizens, which is seeking to verify a visa holder exits and to spot anyone traveling with fraudulent documents. In August, the system identified a Congolese national attempting to enter the country with false documents, one of the highest-profile impostorship cases to date.