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The days of pulling up to a border guard who asks you a couple of questions and expects to see some form of identification as you re-enter the United States after a day in Baja are quickly changing, and panelists at the Center for Ethics in Science & Technology want to talk about it.

The center, a consortium of three major San Diego universities that grapples with controversial issues, is hosting a panel discussion Wednesday night on technology on the border.

Securing the international borders to the north and south ranks as one of the most contentious issues in politics, and living in San Diego, it hits close to home. One idea is to increase border security through the use of sophisticated new technology.

Bio-metrics, which is fingerprint and face recognition, radio frequency I.D. and surveillance cameras, are all in use in border regions and it’s making some American Civil Liberties Union lawyers uneasy. They will argue Wednesday that citizens ought to think long and hard about how much surveillance we’re comfortable with in exchange for increased security.

The civil libertarian argument is essentially that using the surveillance and identity technology doesn’t make sense. It’s costly, threatens privacy, is alien to American values and hasn’t yet been proven to increase safety or stop terrorism.

The ACLU has argued that radio frequency I.D.’s are especially egregious because information that has traditionally been printed on I.D. cards is encoded on a tiny computer chip in the card, which could be used to track and monitor citizens. The chips are embedded within objects that can emit a radio signal, automatically transmitting personal information to a “reader” without the I.D.-holder’s knowledge. What’s more, the reader could be a government employee, law enforcement officer or any private individual equipped with the reading technology, putting people at risk of identity theft.

On the other hand, plenty of voters exerting pressure this election year argue that the government should pull out all the stops and do whatever it takes to keep Americans safe.

If you want to learn more about how the new-fangled technology works and hear competing ideas about whether you should be scared of it, the discussion begins at 5:30 p.m. at the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center in Balboa Park.


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