border wall (Chess Ocampo/Shutterstock.com)

Protect the border with tech, Hurd says

Texas lawmaker Will Hurd (R-Texas) believes the future of border security is in tech.

Speaking at the June 27 Security Industries Association breakfast on Capitol Hill, Hurd sketched a vision where senior security officials can get operational pictures of border activity at the touch of a button. "The head of Border Patrol -- at any time -- can say, 'I want to know what's happening at mile marker 17,'" Hurd said. "They should be able to see that picture and understand what's happening."

Hurd is a longtime opponent of a plan to build a wall along the southern border. There are many parts of the border where Border Patrol's response time to a threat is measured in hours to days, because of distances and rugged remote terrain, the congressman noted. Those distances dramatically erode the effectiveness of a physical barrier, he said.

At the same time, the 20-year-old technology used to monitor the border is outdated. According to Hurd, new sensor technologies are changing the game and could provide a common picture of threats and activity along the entire 2,000-mile border.

Currently, Border Patrol does not have "a coordinated platform to take all the various sensors and have a common operating picture of the border. That common operational picture, he said, can provide data on everything moving back and forth across the border.

Additionally, it "should not require a Ph.D. in computer science to work the technology," Hurd said. "You should not have to be sitting in a van miles away in order to work the technology. The operator should be able to get it while they're on foot on the border. That's the standard that we should have."

"We can do that. It's not hard, but it takes a little time, effort, energy and planning," he said.

The federal government should also put more muscle into mining data gathered by agencies to be used  against drug and human smugglers before they reach the border, Hurd said.

Agencies that gather intelligence on transnational criminal organizations, particularly Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s Homeland Security Investigations, have key data that could help slow the flood of immigration at the border, he said.

The surge of hundreds of thousands of migrants illegally crossing the Southern border, he said, are leaving a data trail that can lead to smugglers and a chance to staunch the flood before it begins.

All of the 144,000 people crossing the border illegally in the last month, he said, “used a human smuggler” to get to the border. “That means they had a phone number. Everyone that’s being apprehended … has a phone number of a human smuggler. They have the license plate of a bus that they were supposed to get on. They had a pick-up location in their home country.”

All of that data can be used to track down the smugglers who are propelling the flood of border traffic. The smugglers, he said, have to be visible and communicate with people to do business. That makes them vulnerable to surveillance and data collection.

"The technology exists to detect a threat, assess that threat, track the threat until you're able to deploy the most important resource -- the men and women in Border Patrol," he said.

Hurd said his vision is getting some traction at the White House, but didn't elaborate.

A version of this article first appeared on FCW, a sibling site to GCN.

About the Author

Mark Rockwell is a senior staff writer at FCW, whose beat focuses on acquisition, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Energy.

Before joining FCW, Rockwell was Washington correspondent for Government Security News, where he covered all aspects of homeland security from IT to detection dogs and border security. Over the last 25 years in Washington as a reporter, editor and correspondent, he has covered an increasingly wide array of high-tech issues for publications like Communications Week, Internet Week, Fiber Optics News, tele.com magazine and Wireless Week.

Rockwell received a Jesse H. Neal Award for his work covering telecommunications issues, and is a graduate of James Madison University.

Click here for previous articles by Rockwell. Contact him at mrockwell@fcw.com or follow him on Twitter at @MRockwell4.


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