28 February 2008

Virtual vs. Physical

FoxNews reports that the virtual fence that is supposed to protect parts of the border where physical barriers and agents won’t be built or assigned is going to be late – three years late. Homeland security officials said that the virtual fence “doesn't meet contract requirements for detecting border intrusions and some of its technology will have to [be] replaced by this summer.” The FoxNews piece also says that “Critics say contractor Boeing Corp. never consulted border agents before engineering the system.”

There’s a lot to be said about having real, physical barriers to real, physical people trying to cross a real, physical border. There’s also a lot to be said for relying on proven technology (concrete, steel barriers, eyeballs) instead of unproven, developmental technologies like those I suspect make up the virtual fence. One has to wonder if the virtual fence is, somewhere in the subconscious of bureaucrats, a way to depersonalize and dehumanize a human problem. Is it possible – or probable - that through the virtual fence counting crossings will be like making widgets and border enforcement will mean just digitally recording, classifying, labeling and storing “incidents” for later review by someone at some unknown time? That seems to me to be the wrong path for border enforcement.

Like all things, technology has limits. Recognizing limits and adjusting for them is important in any endeavor. Border enforcement is no different.

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