Combat and surveillance technologies on display at the seventh annual Border Security Expo this week are a shocking reminder of how close military-grade technology is to American streets.
The expo, which took place in Phoenix, showcased everything from guns to drones that are typically accessible to the military only. Now, they are being sold to law enforcement agencies with multimillion-dollar budgets.
The location of the expo should come as no surprise considering the key role Arizona plays in the U.S. government’s increasing efforts to secure the Mexican border. This effort has included arming police and border patrol agents with war-grade technologies, including drones.
As Kristen Helsel of Aerovironment, one of the vendors at the expo, noted about the Qube drone technology she had on display: “The FAA is just beginning to open the airspace for these public agencies, so we’re really at the very start of them being able to use a tool like this. Small unmanned systems are very versatile and that eye in the sky is so powerful.”
“We’re already almost entirely living in a surveillance state,” said Bruce Schneier, security technologist and author. “… though we don’t realize it or won’t admit it to ourselves.” A rough calculation suggests that in the last five years, an American citizen’s chances of being killed by a terrorist are about one in 20 million, according to the National Counterterrorism Center. Your risk of dying in a car accident: 1 in 19,000.
Physical Security Information Management (PSIM) software alone gives officials enormous surveillance power by connecting security devices across cities and allowing them to be controlled by one computer. We should be increasingly wary of where this technology could end up.
Sadly, the government doesn’t seem to be concerned. They will leave it up to the “user,” which could be anyone from police to corporations as these technologies become cheaper and easier to use. “Issues of privacy are very much up to the customer,” said John Gill, a former White House Chief Security Officer.
Ashley Wright is a writer and researcher with Ring of Fire.