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Ad-supported webcam border surveillance hits Texas

Aussie pub boozers turn Web-2.0 Virtual Nark™

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It has emerged that Australian pub boozers occasionally while away an idle hour monitoring drug smuggling and illegal immigration on the US southern border over the internet.

The Guardian quotes Don Reay of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition, referring to his organisation's webcam crowdsource twitchcurtain stool-pigeon resource, as saying:

"We had folks send an email saying, in good Australian fashion, 'Hey mate, we've been watching your border for you from the pub in Australia'."

It seems that some 100,000 users worldwide have signed up to become "Virtual Texas Deputies" and scan crimebusting webcams mounted along the US-Mexico line. The cameras are paid for from a $2m Texas state government grant, and situated on private land whose owners have signed up to the scheme.

The Texas sheriffs have partnered with social-networking firm BlueServo to set up the "virtual deputy" scheme as a public-private partnership, and those wanting to get in on the freebie streaming vid crime jollity can sign up free for their virtual tin stars here.

The programme started off in November, and claims that already it has notched up a ton of evil reefer death skunk puff seized and "significant numbers" of wannabe Americans repelled - though it doesn't say how many times each.

The idea has its critics, apparently, with state senator Eliot Shapleigh telling the Guardian it has resulted in just three actual arrests and that it "panders to extremists for political purposes". Shapleigh says he and other legislators will try to have the border crimebust spycams' funding cut.

BlueServo, however, anticipate that in time the Virtual Sheriff scheme won't need no stinkin' government funding, as it will become an ads bonanza:

This service will provide millions of dollars in benefits to local border Sheriffs, with the public acting as additional pairs of eyes for Deputies on the ground... BlueServoSM anticipates that high volume of traffic to its website will generate advertising revenue to defray the operations cost of the Virtual Community WatchSM to the Texas Border Sheriff's Coalition.

The Graun prefers not to examine the idea of ad-supported police surveillance, rather seeming to favour the web-2.0-citizens-initiative-trumps-megabillion-dollar-mainstream-project angle. The broadsheet notes the contrast between the Virtual Sheriff ploy and the stalled Department of Homeland Security "SBInet" plan for Eye-o-Sauron style radar spy towers along the border:

Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition...

Cost: $2m Busts since November 2008: 2,000lb marijuana seized; "significant numbers" of illegal immigrants turned back.

American Border Patrol

Arizona-based [donation-supported] volunteer group operates undisclosed number of webcams aimed up to a mile into Mexico. Only trained and registered members...

Cost: $100,000 Busts since April 2008: Members claim to have repelled thousands of would-be illegal immigrants spotted attempting to cross the border on foot.

Department of Homeland Security

The US government's much-delayed Secure Border Initiative...

Cost: Estimated $8bn Busts to date: None.

So what's worse? Ad-supported freebie web-2.0 vigilante surveillance by boozed-up Aussies, or buggy multibillion-dollar automated man-sniffer spy towers? ®

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