Saturday, May 23, 2009

US to Canada: Give up, or you get this wall

Smile! The US sees you coming
Tonda MacCharles, Toronto Star: About 15 metres before a car from Canada reaches the border inspection booth, the screenings begin. A camera snaps your license plate. An electronic card reader mounted on a yellow post scans your car for the presence of any radio-frequency ID cards inside. If there is an enhanced driver's license embedded with biometric information, its unique PIN number is read without you offering it. The Customs and Border Protection computer connects with your province's database and in less than a second your personal information is uploaded to a screen in the booth. A second camera snaps the driver's face. Welcome to the United States of America.

A post-mounted scanner screens your vehicle for radioactive material -- a probe so sensitive it will detect if you've recently had a medical test that used isotopes. As you pull up to the booth, a computer monitor may be filling with information about you even before the guard asks [questions]. Border agents, packing pepper spray, collapsible batons and 9-mm automatic pistols, are the first point of contact for people and cargo alike. Sometimes their supervisors order vehicle sweeps at random. Then for 30 minutes, agents will pop every trunk, just for a look-see...

High in the sky over North Dakota, an unmanned Predator drone is on patrol, equipped with an infrared security camera that looks forward 24 kilometres. The drone is not authorized to fly in Canadian airspace, but it can peer across into Manitoba. Another one is to be stationed near Detroit next year to scan the Michigan-Ontario boundary. More daytime and nighttime infrared camera, radar surveillance towers and remote motion sensors are being erected across the northern US border... Before 9/11, the US had 340 Border Patrol agents along its Canadian border. By next year, there will be more than 2,000. [In] US Coast Guard training exercises on the Great Lakes boats are equipped with machine guns that fire more than 600 bullets a minute.

Patrick White, The Globe and Mail: Last year, US Customs and Border Protection spent $2-billion on an assortment of high- and low-tech toys... About 1,400 unattended ground sensors have been installed, picking up seismic activity from the lightest footstep. A multibillion-dollar virtual fence called the Secure Border Initiative linking dozens of surveillance towers, motion-sensitive cameras and acoustic sensors by fibre-optic cable will eventually encircle the entire United States...

[Former Homeland Security policy chief Stewart] Baker says, 'Look,' after working through the usual explanations for tighter borders, 'There is simply a lot Canada can do in terms of information-sharing that it hasn't done.'... Mr. Baker insists that this lack of co-operation forms the crux of the border issue...

'There's some concerns about privacy and what Canadian law will allow in terms of information-sharing,' says Christopher Sands, a border scholar at the Hudson Institute, a right-wing US think tank. 'But there is an opportunity to move toward a perimeter where, once you're in North America, there's a homogenous level of monitoring and security all the way across the interior so that, from an American-security point of view, we're not blind in any way. If that were the case, the border would matter less. It's just a checkpoint. It would be like Europe: Once you're in, you're free to move around.'

[Minister of Public Safety Peter] Van Loan will have to decide whether the political and privacy sacrifices are worth the value of an open border. 'There are obviously concerns that relate to the kinds of situation we saw with Maher Arar,' he says. 'We have to take that into account. We share a lot of information, but we have to ensure there are appropriate caveats to how it is used.'
Image source here.