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Dems' alternative to Trump's wall blasted by privacy groups

The Democrats’ alternative to President Trump’s border-wall plan, a high technology “wall” that includes surveillance, is getting a sound round of criticism from privacy experts.

“It’s time to tell Congress: Don’t put money in the budget for expanded surveillance at the border,” says the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The organization, along with several like-minded groups, fears mass surveillance at the border would threaten civil liberties for all.

EFF notes that more than 325,000 people enter the U.S. daily through airports, and hundreds of thousands more come by land.

“It’s also a lot of computers, smartphones, and tablets,” it explained.

“Unfortunately, the Fourth Amendment protections we enjoy inside the U.S. for our devices aren’t always as strong when we’re crossing borders – and the Department of Homeland Security takes advantage of it. On the other hand, the border is not a Constitution-free zone. What are the limits to how and how much customs and immigrations officials can access our data?”

It has offered guidelines for travelers faced with searches of their phones or computers.

That’s, apparently, what Democrats want more of.

“Congressional Democrats, looking for alternatives to President Trump’s demand for a border wall, recently offered a border ‘security’ proposal that suggests expanding surveillance at the border. That could lead to new funding for technologies that invade the privacy of immigrants, travelers, and American citizens living near the border,” the organization warned.

“Congress should not counter President Trump’s calls for a physical wall with a tech wall. Unchecked use of surveillance tech undermines everyone’s right to privacy, especially the most vulnerable members of society. We stand with more than two dozen civil liberties groups who have told Congressional Democrats that we oppose such measures,” EFF said.

The privacy groups say new tech could include automated license-plate readers, which collect sensitive location data, or more biometrics.

“The federal government already conducts face surveillance of all travelers (U.S. citizens and foreign nationals alike) on certain international flights. Other threats include iris scans, voiceprints, or even collection of DNA information,” EFF said.

Then there are drones.

“This likely means more drones indiscriminately capturing the faces and license plates of everyone living and working in the area around the border,” the EFF said.

Finally, “risk-based targeting” could mean using analytics to choose just exactly who is in the bull’s-eye for surveillance, it warns.

“The Department of Homeland Security already screens the social media of foreign visitors, threatening the free speech and privacy rights of innocent foreign visitors and the Americans with whom they communicate. After public outcry, DHS abandoned its plan to conduct automated ‘extreme vetting’ of immigrants’ social media. Congress now should ensure it does not fund any new programs like this one,” EFF said.

While a border wall has been criticized, EFF said, “We should not deploy a variety of invasive technologies that violate everyone’s civil rights in its place.”