[Pnews] As the U.S. Scrambles to Slow Coronavirus, We Should Be Wary of Increased Surveillance

Prisoner News ppnews at freedomarchives.org
Mon Mar 23 12:49:38 EDT 2020


  As the U.S. Scrambles to Slow Coronavirus, We Should Be Wary of
  Increased Surveillance

James Kilgore Mar 23, 2020

    When the dust settles on this pandemic, we need to be clear on what
    was an emergency response and what is a desirable permanent change.


/This piece is a commentary, part of The Appeal’s collection of opinion 
and analysis./

As a formerly incarcerated person and student of the punitive technology 
known ase-carceration 
<https://www.challengingecarceration.org/what-is-e-carceration/>, I 
worry not only about the administration’s approach to halting the spread 
of COVID-19*,*but how that approach could grow the power of the 
surveillance state.

For people in pretrial detention, on parole, and under ICE supervision, 
that surveillance state is already a reality that does not get enough 
attention. With GPS tracking devices such as ankle shackles, the state 
implements e-carceration by confining people to their houses, 
restricting their movements in urban space, and increasingly inserting 
their biometrics and personal histories into algorithms that frame the 
extent of personal freedoms. Although algorithm devotees proclaim the 
neutrality and objectivity of their instruments, race, class, and gender 
bias are baked into metadata recipes. These tools extract the raw 
material for their calculations from the records of the criminal legal 
and immigration systems, obvious seats of structural racism. Scholar 
Ruha Benjamin refers to these statistical tools as the “New Jim Code 

No concrete proposals have yet emerged on the use of e-carceration to 
track people infected with the virus in the U.S. But given reports of 
its use to contain the virus in other countries, we should be vigilant.

In China, temperature-taking drones targeted individuals moving in 
public spaces trying to detect evidence of fever, a symptom of the 
virus. Another surveillance tool is the popular AliPay app, which has a 
feature that can track a person’s health and assign them a color-coded 
rating, indicating if they need to self-isolate or can remain on the 
street. According to Reuters 
some apartment buildings and supermarkets required people in Hangzhou to 
show their color codes before entering. The New York Timesreported 
the app also appeared “to share information with the police,” overtly 
linking public health processes with law enforcement.

In South Korea, the Corona 100m 
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-51733145>app informs users when 
they get within 100 meters of a site visited by an infected person. The 
app garnered a million downloads in its first 10 days on the market. 
When users exit their homes, they can look at the app and chart a course 
that avoids places visited by infected individuals.

These developments unfolded in very different political contexts than 
the U.S. But tracking technology and many varieties of drones 
<https://www.policechiefmagazine.org/remote-drone-dispatch/>already are 
part of our carceral landscape. Like the South Koreans, nearly all of us 
already have apps on our phones that track our locations and send them 
to a central location. In addition, U.S. firms like Sentinel Healthcare 
begun producing technologies reminiscent of China’s in anticipation of 
the spread of COVID-19, though the company says it is complying with the 
privacy requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and 
Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Moreover, as the crisis deepens, popular support for surveillance 
technology may increase. In a recent YouGov poll 
percent of respondents said they would support GPS monitoring to enforce 

But if we use surveillance technology to monitor coronavirus patients 
during a time of crisis, will that become more tightly interwoven with 
police national security databases? Will authorities use the moment to 
more intensively track those already on the digital radar: people on 
registries for sex offenses, migrant workers without a permit, those 
with histories of using public benefits, foster care participants? Will 
the companies that supply ankle monitors to the criminal legal system 
grow their market share and the scope of their data scrape in the name 
of ensuring not just public safety and reduced recidivism, but the 
health of the population?

Keep in mind that all of this technology represents an opportunity for 
profiteers. In launching his national state of emergency on March 13, 
President Trump gathered a phalanx of corporate CEOs at the lectern with 
him. Rather than spotlighting public health experts and scientists as 
the saviors of the nation, he brought forward the CEOs of Walmart, 
Target, and Roche. As we track the growing number of COVID-19 cases and 
ensuing fatalities, we must also chart the profits these corporations 
accumulate from this crisis. Death and suffering must not be leveraged 
into increased market share and rising values for futures.

When the dust settles on this pandemic, we need to be clear on what was 
an emergency response and what is a desirable permanent change. This 
viral debacle has the potential to normalize an expanded surveillance 
state and new forms of e-carceration that construct geofences around 
targeted communities and lay the groundwork for digital redlining, using 
GPS and other technologies to create race and class divides. While the 
threat of a virus may justify drastic restrictions on movement, can we 
return to ground zero? Remember, we are still taking off our shoes at 
airports almost 20 years after Richard Reid’s shoe bomb.

/James Kilgore is a formerly incarcerated activist, researcher, and 
author based in Urbana, Illinois. He is the director of the Challenging 
E-Carceration project of Media Justice’s #NoDigitalPrisons campaign. He 
is also the co-director of FirstFollowers Reentry Program and the author 
of five books, including “Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s 
Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Time.”/

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863.9977 https://freedomarchives.org/
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