TELECOM Digest OnLine - Sorted: Test of Texas Border Webcams Off to a Rocky Start

Test of Texas Border Webcams Off to a Rocky Start

Liz Austin Peterson (
Sat, 04 Nov 2006 17:55:05 -0600

Associated Press Writer

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

"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

The cameras will operate at criminal hotspots. Members of the public
who see something suspicious over the Web cameras can e-mail

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

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

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.

On the Net:

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press.

[TELECOM Digest Editor's Note: Even though I am not a Texas resident,
I applied for an acount on their system on Friday, thinking it might
be interesting to have the camera images om a blog site somewhere.
Trouble was (and maybe this is a premature judgment on my part) I
was not able to get a single one (of the eight cameras on line) to
display any images. Also, I tend to use a 'standardized' password
on such things and the Texas system insisted on assigning a very
long, hard or impossible to remember password to me and sending it
to my email box. And the example images they did have on line were
not very good, IMO. PAT]

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