The Security Week That Was: A Recap - Nov. 4-10, 2006

SIW Editor Geoff Kohl gives a weekly surveillance of news shaping your profession


There's been a lot of buzz about border security, not the least of which was the fact that Boeing, along with Unisys and L-3 had land the SBInet contract to build the virtual fence. And then there was the funding for an actual fence, which many say is a joke and that a fence on the U.S.-Mexico border is hardly a bump-in-the-road to people who are already planning to travel in secret for days in a desert environment. But on SecurityInfoWatch.com, we've seen our readers unbelievably interested in the State of Texas' plan to install a number of cameras along the border and then let the public monitor those cameras.

Well, Texas finally unveiled its system this last week with the beta site TexasBorderWatch.com that shows images eight cameras. The Texas-Mexico border is over 1,000 miles long, so eight cameras should be able to fully monitor the border, I'd think. (Tongue inserted firmly in cheek.)

Well, being a security journalist, I clicked my way over to their site to do a mini review. The first thing that you'll notice is that you have to register. No problem – that takes about 5 seconds, maybe 10 seconds if you're a poor typist. Then you need to install an ActiveX plug-in to you Internet Explorer browser. Time required: About 30 seconds. Then you're online with Texas Border Watch. You get to see the eight cameras, and it worked fairly well, considering this is a beta site. So I clicked on the cameras and here's what I got:

Camera 1: This B/W camera looks out on a popular crossing spot on the Rio Grande. The white balance is horribly inadequate, and you have to wonder whether you could even notice a pack of illegal immigrants coming across. Rating (1-10): A dismal 3 for poor camera set-up. Summary: Let's hope it looks good at night.

Camera 2: Color camera this time, but the feed resolution is so low that the Rio Grande's water scintillates from the afternoon sun. Is that a head bobbing across or just an effect of the glare? Rating: A 7 for the clarity. Summary: The challenges of glare and resolution keep the score from being better.

Camera 3: Claims to be a view of a road that is closed at dark, and where "Any traffic seen after dark from the access road on the right onto the main road on the left should be reported." The problem is that the camera doesn't show two roads; instead it's focused on a nice trestle-style bridge. The camera is moving wildly because it's subjected to wind. Rating: A grossly inadequate 2. Summary: Nice bridge; I hope nobody steals it.

Camera 4: Claims to be a border parking lot where criminal activity occurs. I'll take their word for it, since camera 4 couldn't load its video feed. Rating: Does that deserve a big fat zero or an "N/A"? I'm going with the 0. Summary: Turn it on.

Camera 5: A private property location where smuggling has occurred. Again, image is so blown out by sunlight that you can barely tell the difference between scrub brush and dirt. Rating: 3 Summary: Maybe it works better when it's overcast?

Camera 6: More private property where human and vehicle movement should be reported. Image is clear (though B/W), resolution is about what you'd expect for monitoring on a website and the field of view is decent. Rating: 8 Summary: Hey, not bad.

Camera 7: A road where illegals apparently move at night. It's daytime when I'm watching the road, so the sunlight is blowing out the image. But the camera does seem well set for nighttime viewing, and the field of view seems decent. Maybe I'll log in at night. Rating: 7 Summary: An auto iris would be nice.

Camera 8: The camera claims to be capturing a parking lot known for drug deals. Either they took the camera offline or someone sprayed the lens with black paint, because we're not getting a video feed. Rating: Another 0 Summary: How do you monitor something you can't see?

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