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Balancing Biometrics: Electronic Ankle Monitors and the Ethics of Digital Aesthetics

Sat, September 2, 9:00 to 10:30am, Sheraton Boston, Floor: 3, Gardner B


At present, discussions about the social sides of cybersecurity focus on the consequences of large-scale corporate and international cyber hacks and attacks. While warranted, such a focus leaves the everyday aspects of the social sides of cybersecurity under-discussed, under-researched, and under-theorized. Consequently, this paper shares a case study analysis of one small-scale cybersecurity initiative as a way of charting a provocative, new entry point into cybersecurity scholarship. Specifically, I examine the social impacts of attempts to render electronic ankle monitor devices – used to surveil community-based offenders - more secure through attending to their material aesthetics. This analysis is divided into two parts. Part one describes how the design and materials used to compose ankle monitors has changed over time. Part two examines how normative aesthetics emphasizing the cybersecurity of this biometric technology foregrounds public safety, while undercutting support for offender rehabilitation. Through analyzing the material aesthetics of ankle monitors, I ultimately argue that their current design enables them to act as an alternative form of incarceration rather than an alternative to incarceration. Through engaging in this analysis, I seek to generatively bring critical biometric and surveillance studies scholarship into conversation with emergent studies of the politics of cybersecurity policies and practices. As the use of GPS-enabled biometric technologies used to surveil vulnerable populations rapidly expands in an era of unsurpassed government surveillance, calling attention to, and evidencing, uneven and politicized aspects of technological design is one of the most crucial projects biometrics, cybersecurity, and surveillance scholars can undertake at present.