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Leak of proposed US law reveals plans for widespread use of multiple surveillance technologies at borders

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Here on Privacy News Online, we often write about the impact on privacy of technologies such as facial recognition, iris scans, DNA databases, and drones. Individually, those powerful and rapidly-advancing technologies all pose different challenges to the protection of our privacy. Imagine how dangerous it would be if they were brought together in a complete, integrated system. Sadly, you don’t have to: Ars Technica has obtained a leaked copy of the “Building America’s Trust Act,” which aims to do precisely that. In its present draft, the Act:

“Authorizes approximately $15 billion over 4 years for a long-term border security and interior enforcement strategy, strengthening existing legal authorities and increasing public safety.”

As well as physical elements such as “a wall system, fencing, levees”, another key component of this plan to bolster the US border is a wide range of surveillance technologies:

“Not later than January 20, 2021, the Secretary of Homeland Security…shall deploy the most practical and effective technology available along the United States border for achieving situational awareness and operational control of the border.”

“Situational awareness”, in case you were wondering, is helpfully defined by the US Coast Guard as “knowing what is going on around you”. Some of the surveillance technology that will be used to provide that awareness includes drones, which would have to fly “for not less than 24 hours per day for five days per week” if the new law is passed. Quite why they are not required to provide surveillance 24 x 7 is unclear.

Potential immigrants to the US may be required to submit a full range of biometric data:

“The Secretary may require any individual filing an application, petition, or other Advanced Materials request for immigration benefit or status with the Department or seeking an immigration benefit,

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