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Recode Daily: Inside the so-called “smart wall” at the US-Mexico border

Plus: The White House passes on an anti-online extremism pledge, San Francisco introduces an “IPO tax,” and the FCC goes after robocalls.

The US-Mexico border.
The US-Mexico border.
Mario Tama/Getty Images

The “smarter” wall: how drones, sensors, and AI are patrolling the border. As politicians debate over whether to continue to spend billions more on extending a physical barrier across the 2,000-mile US-Mexico border, tech companies are promising a different and — they say — drastically cheaper and more effective solution: a so-called “smart wall” of surveillance technology. Critics, meanwhile, say the smart wall raises serious privacy concerns and question whether it will work as well as hoped. Shirin Ghaffary reports a deep look at this patchwork of technology, including AI-backed surveillance towers, automated drones, and fiber optic sensing technology, and the discussions around them.
[Shirin Ghaffary / Recode]

The White House passed on a global pledge to end online extremism. More than a dozen countries including France and the UK along with major tech companies like Amazon, Facebook, and Google signed a pledge to fight online extremism. But the US has declined to join them. Called the “Christchurch call,” in response to the recent mass shootings at two mosques in New Zealand that left 51 people dead, the pledge “is basically a voluntary commitment from countries and companies to do better when it comes to addressing dangerous and violent content online.” So why did the White House object? “It’s not entirely clear,” Emily Stewart reports — although a spokesperson told the Washington Post that there are concerns about free speech principles and the First Amendment.
[Emily Stewart / Recode]

As a flurry of tech companies go public, IPOs have become the new “boogeyman” in Silicon Valley politics. Theodore Schleifer writes about a new ballot initiative in San Francisco, dubbed the “IPO tax.” As Schleifer explains, the tax isn’t actually a tax on IPOs, but “an increase in the preexisting payroll-like tax that employers will have to pay to 1.5 percent, or $15 on every $1,000, of the value of any compensation that the employer pays in shares.” Nevertheless, the tax is good marketing that “speaks to how the new wealth creation by the tech industry has become a useful political weapon.” So watch out, thousands of future San Francisco tech IPO millionaires, if this tax proposal is any sign — there may be more instances of political backlash coming your way.
[Theodore Schleifer / Recode]

The FCC announced a new measure to make it easier to block robocalls. The new rule would “make it easier for carriers, like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile, to automatically register their customers for call-blocking technology” and let customers block calls coming from people who aren’t in their contacts, as The Verge’s Makena Kelly reports. “Allowing call blocking by default could be a big benefit for consumers who are sick and tired of robocalls,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. Robocalls are an increasingly common nuisance; last year, an estimated 48 billion robocalls were placed in the US alone. And the FCC isn’t the only one trying to strike down on spam calls: There’s currently open legislation in Congress and the Senate taking aim at robocallers at well.
[Makena Kelly / The Verge]

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