Crowdsourced Border Patrol

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Virtual Border Watch at


"One of the earliest (and creepiest) uses of crowdsourcing appeared in Texas where the governor hooked surveillance cameras up to the Internet, allowing anyone with an Internet connection the ability to play virtual border guard. The program failed to attract enough users though, and the governor shuttered the "Virtual BorderWatch"—warning: Texas trademarked the name!—a few months later.

Now it's reappeared, and is getting much the the same wide-eyed press attention lavished on it the first time around. I'll decline to enter the fray over whether this constitutes the triumph of the panopticon. That ship sailed long ago. We have met Big Brother and it is us. But I am interested in whether the Virtual Border Watch can attract enough users to justify the $2 million the state is spending to maintain the site. If it suceeds, this would seem to imply that social production-slash-crowdsourcing-slash-distributed-labor has penetrated the mainstream enough to support even the most skull crushingly boring of its uses. Since the program re-launched in November, 43,000 people have logged in, resulting in the retrieval of 1,500 pounds of marijuana. That seems like a drop in the bucket to me, but then drug war economics are always an exercise in absurdity, so who knows how this is playing in Austin." (