Category Archives: Surveillance and digital archives

Digital contact tracing: security theater to surveillance enabler

Back in the Spring, digital contact tracing was heralded as the hi-tech path out of the pandemic. With the benefit of six months of hindsight, the limitations of the approach have become clear [see Schneier for a concise summing-up of its shortcomings].

While digital contact tracing’s notional benefits seem to belong squarely in the realm of security theater (i.e., showing the public that Something Is Being Done), its potential for justifying intrusive surveillance remains intact. Two recent news items illustrate this dynamic. A small liberal arts college in Michigan is forcing its students to download a contact-tracing app (and apparently a security vulnerability-riddled one, at that) as a condition for being allowed on campus. Meanwhile, the delegates to the Republican National Convention reportedly are to wear “smart badges” (originally developed for tracking pallets) to record their movements through the convention venue in Charlotte. While higher education has long been a laboratory of choice for surveillance technology experimentation, I would have expected the libertarian wing of the GOP to kick up more of a fuss over this kind of intrusion.

Surveillance and anti-surveillance in residential housing

An interesting project (via Slashdot) to track and report the deployment of surveillance technology by property owners. This type of granular, individual surveillance relationship sometimes gets lost in the broader debates about surveillance, where we tend to focus on Nation-States and giant corporations, but it is far more pervasive and potentially insidious (as I discuss in I Labirinti). Unsurprisingly, it is showing up at a social and economic flashpoint in these pandemic times, the residential rental market. The Landlord Tech Watch mapping project is still in its infancy: whether doxxing is an effective counter-strategy to surveillance in this context remains to be seen.

Logic magazine

Just discovered (via the BKC newsletter) a cool publication, Logic. They do three themed issues a year on topics at the intersection of tech and society. Vol. 10: Security (from May this year) looks particularly close to the kind of things I am working on. There’s a long piece by Matt Goerzen and Gabriella Coleman on the intertwined histories of hacking and computer security, and a couple of in-depth interviews with Tawana Petty on facial recognition and with Alison Macrina on Tor. Good stuff: I need to get my hands on a hard copy.