New report finds border communities inundated with surveillance technologies

The Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) today published “The Atlas of Surveillance: Southwestern Border Communities,” the first report from a new research partnership with the University of Nevada, Reno’s Reynolds School of Journalism.

EFF and a team of students compiled profiles of six counties along the U.S.-Mexico border, outlining the types of surveillance technologies deployed by local law enforcement—including drones, body-worn cameras, automated license plate readers and face recognition. The report also includes a set of 225 data points marking surveillance by local, state and federal agencies in the border region.

Student researchers found a heavy concentration of surveillance technology, even among smaller municipalities. These technologies were often funded through federal grants, particularly Operation Stonegarden, which transfers money to local law enforcement to assist in border security operations.

“The federal government’s push to conduct persistent surveillance along the border has also accelerated adoption of advanced technology by police and sheriff departments in border town communities,” EFF Senior Investigative Researcher and Visiting Reynolds Professor of Media Technology Dave Maass said. “Our research paints a picture of a region beset by surveillance. Homeland Security agencies are using sensor towers and blimps. Meanwhile, we identified more than 30 law enforcement agencies on the ground using automated license plate readers, body-worn cameras and mobile face recognition devices.”

The new report focuses on San Diego County, California.; Pima and Cochise counties, Arizona; Doña Ana County, New Mexico; and El Paso and Webb counties, Texas. EFF and the Reynolds School are now embarking on a larger scale project to inventory police surveillance across the country, using crowdsourcing to collect news articles and public records and aggregating existing surveillance datasets.

“Because surveillance issues are increasingly relevant to every aspect of our lives, this collaboration between the Reynolds School and EFF provides great educational and engagement opportunities to our students,” Reynolds School Associate Professor and Director of the Center for Advanced Media Studies Gi Yun said.

To assist with large-scale newsgathering, EFF has launched a new tool, Report Back, to streamline research assignments. Report Back allows students to quickly receive small online reporting tasks, such as searching for a news article or government policy document about a certain technology in a particular jurisdiction. Once the students identify a record about the surveillance technology, they enter the information into the greater database. Currently limited to Reynolds School students, EFF plans to expand its user base to grassroots organizations in 2020.

The Atlas of Surveillance project is part of a new partnership with the Reynolds School, which will also involve developing a course on Cybersecurity and Surveillance and leading students in regular workshops on filing Freedom of Information Act and other public records requests.

For the full report, visit the EFF Atlas of Surveillance guide.

Substack subscription form sign up
The material in this press release comes from the originating research organization. Content may be edited for style and length. Want more? Sign up for our daily email.