Test of Texas' Border Webcams Is Rocky
Friday, November 3, 2006; 9:04 PM
AUSTIN, Texas -- Texas launched its ambitious effort to use Internet users to watch the border for illegal immigrants. But the network of surveillance cameras Friday was plagued by technical problems, the images were grainy and the cameras were placed so high that it was hard to distinguish a person from, say, a bush.
Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who announced plans over the summer to spend $5 million on the virtual posse, asked for "forgiveness on the front end of this," but dismissed the problems as routine computer glitches.
"I'm sure that as you start a big program like this that you will have some glitches," Perry, who is up for re-election, said in Brownsville, along the Mexican border. "My wife's computer is not working this morning."
The cameras will operate at criminal hotspots. Members of the public who see something suspicious over the Web cameras can e-mail authorities.
However, the Web site does not work on some Internet browsers. The images were grainy and it was difficult to tell whether, say, a group of people on the screen was a family crossing a crowded parking lot or a band of smugglers with their human cargo.
The view from one camera on the Rio Grande was largely obscured by a bush. In another, all that was visible was the license plates on passing cars.
When he announced the program in June, Perry said the images would be available online in a month. While the first cameras were installed within a month, and law enforcement officers have been watching them since then, the public Web site was not up and running until late Thursday.
Perry spokeswoman Kathy Walt said that it proved more difficult than expected to get the public site running and that the launch so close to the election was a coincidence.
Law enforcement officials have access to footage from about 15 cameras, Walt said, but only eight appear on the Web site.
Walt said authorities have been trying to work out technical issues, such as the proper distance and how to achieve good picture quality. Since much of the border is undeveloped land, the designers of the system also had to figure out how to use batteries or solar power and how to transmit by wireless signal.
Six companies have donated their time and camera equipment, Walt said. The state paid a seventh company $100,000 to create and run the Web site.
Within a few days, the state plans to ask companies to submit proposals to install dozens of additional cameras.
Since the cameras were installed, local law enforcement officers have spotted some suspicious doings, including water crossings and nighttime activity at rally points, Walt said.
Some civil rights groups have criticized the virtual border watch plan, saying it will instill fear in border communities and could lead to fraudulent crime reports and racial profiling.
Associated Press writer Kelley Shannon contributed to this report from Brownsville, Texas; AP Technology Editor Matthew Fordahl contributed from New York.
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