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Reboot for "virtual" border fence

After years of snags, work on the electronic surveillance system along the US-Mexico border restarted this week.

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The "virtual fence" is back.

A year after the idea bit the Arizona dust – a victim of high expectations and a failed prototype – construction began this week on nine surveillance towers along a stretch of desert south and west of Tucson, Ariz., intended to be part of a high-tech alternative to a physical barrier on the border.

The technology remains similar to that of a failed prototype that was deployed in late 2007, but according to Mark Borkowski, executive director of the Secure Border Initiative within Customs and Border Protection, this time around, the "technology has been changed, tested and retested" and now "does work."

Up to 140 feet high and equipped with cameras, radar, and a microwave link to other towers, the surveillance turrets are supposed to communicate the coordinates and images of moving figures near the border to remote command centers and border patrol vehicles on the ground.

The "fence" is intended to help US border patrol agents stop illegal immigrants and drug smugglers from crossing into the country.

The Department of Homeland Security, which had virtually halted the project a year ago, plans to spend $6.7 billion for the entire Southwest border in the next few years. Boeing, which was paid $20 million for the prototype, has a $100 million contract for building the first section near Tuscon.

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