The Domestic Surveillance Debate: US/Canada Border Surveillance

The issue of domestic surveillance is a heated and controversial topic. This has been seen in the NSA scandal after contractor Edward Snowden leaked documents revealing the true scope of government surveillance, and, more recently, the outrage of Muslim-Americans at being targeted by the New York police department on the basis of race and religion. Most argue that there is no need for the government to morph into some sort of electronic Big Brother to ensure our security. But very few people truly realize the variety of topics that the term “domestic surveillance” encompasses. Though the majority of Americans think that constant, warrantless surveillance infringes upon privacy and envision a variation of a tyrannical Orwellian regime, we too often neglect the fact that, sometimes, surveillance is necessary and beneficial.

In this article, I will demonstrate the need to augment surveillance on the US-Canada border. Thus far, the US/Canada border has been overlooked and under-protected. According to the Washington Times, the federal government only has control of 32 miles of the 4,000-mile border. Currently, border security still depends on human patrol, examination and interrogation for any signs of suspicious activity. A survey done by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) also shows that 87 percent of attempted border crossings were successful. Inquisitr, a group of investigative journalists, dressed up one of their reporters as an IS terrorist carrying a large duffel bag. The reporter was able to enter the US from Canada across Lake Erie without getting caught. The Border Patrol seldom monitors the Great Lakes, and terrorists could potentially travel across the waters in a matter of half an hour. Does this case of a bogus terrorist safely and easily crossing the border make you feel better about border security?

This is a warning sign on the US/Canada border.
This is a warning sign on the US/Canada border.

In fact, the DHS has said that the risk of terrorist activity stemming from the US/Canada border is actually higher than across our southern border. Only seven of the 115 total cases of people discovered crossing illegally in the DHS survey come from states near the southern border; ironically, we have been focusing our efforts and directing our funding at that very southern border. Most political rhetoric seems to have been focused on the US/Mexican border, and our billions of resources have mostly been aimed at stopping illegal immigration. Garrett M. Graff, editor of the political policy site Politico, has said that “while there is a good chance that ISIL fighters will try to enter the United States, there’s almost no chance that they’ll do it by sneaking across the Mexican border because it requires negotiations with drug cartels and both sides distrust each other.” Senator Joe Lieberman also said that there are more identified Islamic extremist groups in Canada than in Mexico. As such, radicalized Canadians or Americans and lone-wolf terrorists are probably the greatest threat because they can move easily and inconspicuously in the crowd of one million people that pass between the US and Canada daily.

This issue is also something Canada should be concerned about. The ramifications of a terrorist attack at the US/Canada border could not only result in loss of lives, but also in severe disruption of Canada’s economy. Around 35 percent of Canada’s GDP (gross domestic product) is from trade with the US, and this trade depends on maintaining efficient transport of goods and services across the border. For instance, after 9/11, trucks with US-bound cargo were lined up for a week at the border. A terrorist attack along the border could have a similar effect. It is absolutely critical that this trans-border flow of goods not be interrupted; otherwise, this would hurt the Canadian economy considerably.

It is crucial that the US and Canada collaborate to direct more resources towards the northern border and upgrade its border security to guard against terrorism, drug cartels and other illegal activity. If we continue to neglect this problem, our country will continue to be vulnerable to terrorism and other illicit activity.