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Accepted Paper:

Detained through tech. Experiences of and resistance to digital confinement in the US asylum system  
Carolina Boe (Aarhus University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper conceptualizes "digital confinement" through an analysis of so-called "alternatives to detention" in the USA (electronic ankle monitors, voice recognition and facial recognition installed on asylum seekers’ phones) and how they are experienced, embodied, resisted, and transformed.

Paper long abstract:

Facial recognition software SmartLink is increasingly deployed as an “alternative to detention” by ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement), along with other surveillance technologies such as voice recognition and electronic ankle bracelets. Rather than being “alternatives” to confinement in immigration detention centers, digital technologies have become an addition to detention, spreading confinement into immigrant communities, workplaces and homes and prolonging detention indefinitely.

Taking the specific temporal and spatial experiences of these forms of digital confinement as its object of analysis, the paper conceptualizes "Digital Confinement". It further discusses a collaborative audiovisual project carried out with monitored asylum seekers in Austin, Texas. Through photography and video, the project participants aim to make visible the embodied effects of "digital confinement", or being geo-located and tracked through monitors strapped on their ankle and detained through facial recognition apps installed on their phone, and resist against the uncertainty that characterizes not knowing when such protracted surveillance will end, nor how – with a successful asylum case or deportation.

In addition to the active involvement of private prison companies that profit from both detention and its digital “alternatives”, ICE contracts with increasing numbers of tech companies, which see immigration enforcement as a new market for their products. As they develop new ways of extracting and producing data and value from the mobilities of asylum seekers, tech companies contribute to reconfigure the fields of confinement and internal border control.

Panel P029a
Experiencing and Resisting Technologies of Confinement, Surveillance and Data Extraction [Anthropology of Confinement Network] I
  Session 1 Friday 29 July, 2022, -