Accepted Paper:

Virtual fences: Uncovering the politics of prison security systems  


Olga Kudina (University of Twente)
François Thoreau (University of Liege)
Jérémy Grosman (Research Center for Information Law and Society)

Paper long abstract:

Modern-day security systems undergo reconceptualization based on borders' dematerialization towards more circulating and open fences (Razac, 2013). Belgian penitentiary system falls into the trend, modernizing its prisons visually and technologically to make them fit for suburbanites' acceptability upon relocation to peripheral business activity zones (Thoreau et el., 2014). Prison's perimeter will now be secured by virtual fences, - technology combining video cameras, thermal/audio sensors, and radars. The system recognizes as dangerous any subject that falls out of normal behavior patterns. Thus, invisible to human eye, virtual fences act as surveillance agents to whom people delegated their functions, creating more impenetrable barriers and redefining the space far beyond prisons. The article will explore ethical implications for general public from implementing such technologies, building on the scholarship of Actor-Network theory (Latour, Woolgar, 1979) and the management of permeability concept (Razac). The hypothesis is that virtual fences are political, shaping behavior standards according to prison's security goals and hampering freedoms of individuals who get into prison's surveillance zone. The hypothesis will be challenged against opening technical and social black-boxes of virtual fences, discovering what their technological architecture reflexes, how the algorithms of normal behavior are defined and incorporated and how public perceives such innovation. We will utilize quantitative and qualitative research methods to analyze empirical evidence from interviews, on-line surveys and personal involvement as junior researchers in the EU project on virtual fences development. Following Beijker (2009), to facilitate public participation in scientific debates, interview audience will include both experts and lay persons.

Panel I1
Understanding techno-security: On pre-emption, situational awareness and technological superiority