Robotic dogs may soon be used along the border with Mexico to assist Border Patrol guards. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is calling it a “civil liberties disaster.”
A press release debuting the dogs was released by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) earlier this week. “Due to the demands of the region, adding quadruped mechanical reinforcements is a smart use of resources,” the DHS said in a blog post. DHS says the goal of the program is to leverage technology to multiply the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) presence and reduce human exposure to life-threatening hazards.
Early on, Border Patrol voiced interest in a four-legged ground drone solution and Ghost Robotics was brought into the fold. They saw an opportunity to re-engineer a version of their pre-existing robot dog for the border patrol mission. Ghost Robotics’s previous version of the robot dog showcased a four-legged robot that had a sniper rifle attached to its back.
The robots were tested in El Paso, Tex., on the international border. “In a desert area, the dogs were programmed to go on simulated sentry duty,” DHS said.
According to Gavin Kenneally, the chief product officer at Ghost Robotics, the 100-pound robot dog was “bred” for exactly the type of work that CBP needs to be done. “It is a rugged, quadruped robot. It traverses all types of natural terrain including sand, rocks, and hills, as well as human-built environments, like stairs. That’s why you want legs and not tracks.”
The ACLU has raised serious concerns about the operation. “The use of these robo-dogs raises serious privacy concerns,” said Nia Rucker, Policy Counsel and Las Cruces Regional Manager for the ACLU. “This is another example of surveillance technology being weaponized against the Border community.”
The robo-dogs were designed to integrate different types of cameras (360-degree, thermal, night vision, zoom, etc.) and sensors (chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, etc.) onto the robots. The dogs then send back signals via Wi-Fi or radio signals.
Both the Trump and Biden administrations have been criticized by refugee advocates for the growing number of immigrants being held at private facilities.
“The government must retract this dangerous proposal, and the Biden administration must put the brakes on our country’s slide into an anti-immigrant dystopia,” said the ACLU in a Twitter post.