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Vermont official has privacy concerns about border towers

March 17, 2021 GMT

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan said he worries about the privacy implications of a series of surveillance towers federal officials are hoping to build along the state’s border with Quebec.

Donovan said he recognized the need by U.S. Customs and Border Protection to monitor the border for illegal activities.

“My expectation is that the CBP, in service to the public, will balance its needs for public safety with the privacy interest of those it is sworn to protect,” Donovan said in a statement issued Tuesday. “CBP has failed to make a compelling case that the scale and scope of the proposed surveillance is ultimately necessary, and it has failed to adequately take into account Vermonters’ privacy concerns.”

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The Vermont chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union and its New York counterpart submitted comments Monday about the project, expressing concerns about privacy and safety and saying there was no need for the project.

There are more than two dozen similar towers that have been in use for about a decade farther west in the Border Patrol’s Buffalo and Detroit sectors and have not caused any concern, Customs spokesperson Michael Niezgoda said Wednesday.

The towers have helped apprehend illegal border crossers, including both human and drug smugglers, he said.

Customs last month opened a 30-day public comment period for a draft environmental assessment and finding of no significant impact for the proposed phase 1 Remote Video Surveillance System for the U.S. Border Patrol’s Swanton Sector, which includes Vermont, New Hampshire and part of upstate New York.

The proposal includes two locations in Champlain, New York, and the Vermont communities of Highgate Center, Franklin, Richford, Derby, Derby Line and North Troy.

Janet McFetridge, the mayor of Champlain, said Wednesday there hadn’t been any opposition to the proposal in her community.