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Government officials refer to surveillance technology at the U.S.-Mexico border as a “virtual wall,” when, in reality, it is a digital dumpster fire for human rights and civil liberties. Hundreds of millions of dollars are pumped into camera towers, drones, aerostats, surveillance vehicles, ground sensors, game cameras and license plate readers—all to the detriment of those who live, work, or seek refuge in the borderlands.  This technology isn’t exclusive to U.S. federal agencies: it’s also deployed by state and local law enforcement, and even by governments on the Mexican side. 

For more than a decade, EFF has been building our knowledge and advocacy capabilities on border tech issues using litigation, public records requests, research trips, interviews, open-source intelligence, and cross-organizational collaboration. Our focus can be viewed through the following lenses:  

  1. Surveillance at official ports of entry and border crossings. EFF’s work includes defending the rights of individuals whose devices have been searched or seized upon entering the country; investigating the collection of biometric and social media identifiers and pushing for stronger protections for this data; and developing digital security guidance for people crossing borders. EFF has also mapped out the network of automated license plate readers installed at checkpoints and land entry points along the U.S.-Mexico border.  
  2. Surveillance along the border, the so called “virtual wall.” EFF has mapped out more than 465 surveillance towers along the U.S.-Mexico border and is in the process of creating a definitive pocket guide to the types of surveillance law enforcement deploys. We also regularly give presentations, and guided virtual reality tours to journalists, academics, and activists working in the borderlands. We also recently published a zine to people who live and/or work near the border to identify surveillance technology:
  3. Local law enforcement surveillance. The borderlands often serve as a testing ground and entry point for military surveillance to be deployed in a domestic law enforcement context, before it is imported to the interior of the country. In addition, police and sheriffs in border communities often accept federal funding, either through grants or civil asset forfeiture, to purchase technologies in the name of border security. This situation is further complicated by state and local officials who take border security into their own hands, such as Texas’ Operation Lone Star and Cochise County, Arizona’s SABRE program.  
  4. Surveillance in the cloud. Immigration authorities access massive amounts of data through third party platforms and from local agencies. Migrants and asylum seekers are also required to use apps such as CBP One and to accept electronic monitoring while awaiting legal proceedings. EFF has advocated for sanctuary data policies restricting how ICE can access criminal justice and surveillance data 

EFF published a zine guide to surveillance tech at the border in May 2024. Download it here:

 a wall made of eyes on a purple background. a wall made of eyes on a purple background.

EFF is also a member of the #MigrarSinVigilancia coalition, which opposes indiscriminate surveillance affecting migrants across Latin America and pushes for the protection of human rights by safeguarding migrants' privacy and personal data.  

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