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Tracking, Monitoring & Control.

  • Report
  • Mar 20 2023
  • Tatiana Bazzichelli
    is a curator and researcher on information technology, network culture, hacktivism, and whistleblowing. She is the artistic director and founder of Disruption Network Lab, a Berlin-based nonprofit organization in Germany (Disruption Network Lab e. V.) that has since 2014 organized participatory, interdisciplinary, international events at the intersection of human rights and technology with the objective of strengthening freedom of speech.

Investigating systems of surveillance around prisons, detention centres and borders, and the effects of technological violence and discrimination directed at migrants, activists, and dissidents in Europe and worldwide.

Machine learning, image and speech recognition, semantic analytics, and algorithmic policing are developing the future of prison systems. These types of networked technologies, from connected sensors, tracking wristbands, and data analytics, are progressively being used to recognize and track prisoners, individual locations, and activities of potential targets.

In the Chinese Yancheng prison, a system of networked cameras and hidden sensors developed by private corporations and public research, uses 24-hour facial recognition and movement tracking, generating daily behavioral analysis reports on all 1600 prisoners, flagging anything deemed suspicious or abnormal.

In the U. S., several tech companies have helped develop surveillance systems, such as Amazon’s Rekognition software, which has already been sold to police departments, expanding the government’s surveillance capabilities. Also in Europe, surveillance and monitoring technologies including cameras, drones, biometrics, and motion sensors, are in use to control and monitor borders, to stop unwanted migration, and to track migrants in detention centers.

Although automatized technologies of tracking, monitoring, and surveillance are developing at a fast pace, there is nothing radically new in the integration of networks of tracking, monitoring, and control for surveillance and detention of potential targets. The conference SMART PRISONS: Tracking, Monitoring & Control traces back the creation of “algorithms of security” through the past twenty years, reflecting on the effects of technological violence and surveillance directed at migrants, activists, and dissidents in Europe and worldwide. If an algorithm is a set of step-by-step procedures, what has been implemented in the post-9/11 society, has been a process of controlling dissent by enforcing new sets of shared rules, making security an integrated part of our daily lives.

Alongside ethical questions around the abuse of privacy, these technological implementations need to be analyzed to hold governments and corporations accountable and socially responsible. Deploying automatized technologies may increase problems of bias, discrimination, and wrongful punishments, and raise psychological pressures to conform, furthering a culture hostile to dissent.

SMART PRISONS looks at how specific targets, whether prisoners, migrants at borders, or dissidents, have been progressively marginalized, trapped inside prison facilities, detention centers, or within systems of automatized control, being labeled as threats or suspects, due to intersectional biases or critical political activity. The concept of “smart should not be interpreted as purely technological, but as an integrated system of tracking, monitoring, and control, encompassing bureaucracy, power, psychology, and propaganda, accelerated by technology over the last decades.

While automatized discrimination and human rights violations of “unwanted” people are already a fact, this conference also aims to propose possible solutions and future developments in the field of counter-surveillance, civic technologies, and grassroots investigations.

The conference connects artists, activists, human rights advocates, tech experts, and critical thinkers around the topics of automatised tracking and surveillance in the framework of prisons and detention centres through a multiplicity of experiences, investigations, and researches: the keynote of Sean Vegezzi, a New-York born artist who has examined New York City’s topography since 9/11, who presents his new artistic production, documenting the Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC), an 800-bed, 191-meter floating detention facility anchored off the Bronx's southern shore, across from Rikers Island; the story of Srishti Jaswal, an independent journalist based in India that became the target of right-wing trolls on the internet and wrote an extensive reportage on their modus operandi; the 10-years long grassroots forensic investigation of Segreteria Legale (The Legal Secretariat) related to the G8/Genoa events of 2001 in Italy, set up to assist lawyers in the trials of protesters, and to investigate the police brutality and torture of protesters at Diaz and Bolzaneto, the killing of Carlo Giuliani, and other incidents during the street demonstrations; and finally the case of Julian Assange, through a panel with Stella Assange (among others) and the screening of Ithaka which revolves around Assange’s persecution, trial and incarceration at the Belmarsh high-security prison in the United Kingdom since April 2019, and the looming threat of extradition to the United States, facing prosecution under the draconian Espionage Act

The programme SMART PRISONS: Tracking, Monitoring & Control started in the fall of 2022 with a series of events leading up to the conference. Alongside the Disruption Network Lab’s commissioned artistic production by Sean Vegezzi, two online panels of the Disruptive Fridays series, Opening Prisons (November 4, 2022) and Algorithms of Violence (December 2, 2022), discussed prison surveillance, border controls, migration tracking and monitoring, and how the implications of these systems and emerging technologies can be investigated through artistic practices.

After the conference, Disruption Network Lab will release a report by Sean Vegezzi to summarise the findings of his artistic project on the Vernon C. Bain Center (VCBC), as well as two short pieces on tracking and monitoring at detention centers, with primary source insights to inform debates in the field and influence civic society.

This conference follows a path of multiple years at the Disruption Network Lab in relation to the critical analysis of AI, surveillance, and human rights, including the conferences Drones (April 2015), Bots (April 2016), Prisoners of Dissent (May 2017), Terror Feeds (November 2017), AI Traps (June 2019), Citizens of Evidence (September 2019) Data Cities (September 2020), Borders of Fear (November 2020) and, most recently, The Kill Cloud (March 2022).


To the full program HERE.




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