The Texas government is installing hundreds of cameras along the Mexican border and enlisting Americans who use the Internet to monitor illegal activity.
Within 30 days, the Texas Department of Homeland Security will enable citizens and law enforcement officials to watch alleged crimes through the Internet as they occur, using surveillance cameras along the 1,200-mile border with Mexico. Texas officials expect the cameras to capture images of drug trafficking, trespassing, theft, rape and kidnapping, all common to border areas.
The state will post the live video to a Web site so that federal and local agencies can dispatch personnel to the scene immediately. Private citizens viewing the site can report the crime using a toll-free number.
Last Thursday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry announced that the new surveillance program is just one part of a layered approach to securing the Texas border.
"By leveraging advanced video technology and the power of the World Wide Web, and with an increased financial commitment from the state of Texas, we can make our border stronger and our nation safer," Perry says.
Perry has dedicated $5 million in funds from the governor's budget to finance the plan.
The Texas-Mexico border is extensive, so the cameras will not be omnipresent. The Texas Department of Homeland Security is working with private landowners to identify strategic locations where the most illegal activity occurs. Installation will proceed on a voluntary basis only, and Perry's office anticipates border residents will have no problem consenting to a live government camera operating on their land.
"There has been interest, and we think once this gets up and running there will be more interest. [Illegal activity] is a real and constant danger to people who live right along the border," says Kathy Walt, a spokeswoman for Perry's office.
For security reasons, the governor's office will not identify the border areas that will receive the cameras. Citizens will be able to monitor a stretch of land but cannot identify a camera's exact geographic location. Law enforcement will know which cameras they're watching, but the average citizen monitoring streaming video on the Internet from home will use a random number assigned to the camera to report activity to authorities through an 800 number. Users will be able to switch cameras on the Web site and watch at night using the camera's night vision capability.
Perry, who is attempting to bring other technology to the Texas border, such as instant fingerprinting analysis, says the surveillance plan is a sophisticated spin on a rather common idea.
"I look at this as no different than the neighborhood watches that we have had in our communities for years and years," he says.
The state expects to measure the success of the cameras against crime rates.
"Just having this program in place will be a deterrent in itself. Activity won't occur in those spots," Walt says.
Chris Simcox, founder and president of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps, a group of private citizens working to monitor the borders in southern and northern border states, believes more personnel are needed before the surveillance cameras and other technology can be effective.
"It's almost like you can watch the invasion live on your home computer, but there will be no one there to stop it," Simcox says.