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Arizona Senate panel OKs $30M for state ‘virtual fence’

PHOENIX — An Arizona House panel on Monday gave initial approval to a plan
to spend $30 million to install 350 miles of “virtual fence” along the state’s
southern border with Mexico.

The plan approved by the House Government and Environment Committee would place
high-technology radar and video sensors on 300 towers along 350 miles of the
border to monitor human and drug-smuggling activity. The sensors would send
signals to a publicly accessible site and could also be monitored by law
enforcement agencies.

The proposal from Sen. Bob Worsley, R-Mesa, would use radar sensors about the
size of a cereal box that could monitor 250 acres each. Mounting the sensors on
towers paired with solar power units and a camera would allow Arizona to
implement a “trust but verify” policy as to the federal effort to secure the
border, Worsley said.

Worsley said he is confident Congress will pass immigration reform this year
that will have lots of new spending for border security and that new security
needs to be monitored.

“It’s time that we have our own way to verify what we’re being told by the
Department of Homeland Security,’ he said.

The radar sensors are made by a Utah company and are currently being used by
the U.S. military in hostile environments.

Senate Bill 1106 passed on a 4-3 party-line vote, with Republicans in support.
The vote came despite worries from GOP members about privacy concerns and
questions as to whether the federal government should be funding the effort.

“It’s a good thing to be able to use these things,” said Sen. Chester
Crandell, R-Heber. “My question is: Why isn’t the Arizona delegation in
Washington pushing for these things?”

The federal government tried to construct a “virtual fence” along the
Arizona-Mexico border in a project that began in 2006. But it was abandoned in
2011 after consuming more than $1 billion and being overrun with system faults
and false alarms.

Funding for the project also could include the estimated $260,000 in donations
that the state has already collected under previously enacted legislation for an
as-yet-unbuilt border fence.

Sen. Steve Farley, D-Tucson, opposed the $30 million appropriation and voted
against the proposal. And Sen. Kelli Ward, R-Lake Havasu City, supported the
proposal but raised privacy concerns with the cameras Worsley proposed could be
teamed with the radar units streaming their images to anyone.

“It seems like anybody and everybody can see anybody and everybody down
there,” she said.

The bill now goes to the Senate Appropriations Committee, where its $30 million
spending is likely to receive a critical reception.


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