Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor

Virginia Eubanks

Think of the digital poorhouse as an invisible spider web woven of fiber optic strands. Each strand functions as a microphone, a camera, a fingerprint scanner, a GPS tracker, an alarm trip wire, and a crystal ball. Some of the strands are sticky. They are interconnected, creating a network that moves petabytes of data. Our movements vibrate the web, disclosing our location and direction. Each of these filaments can be switched on or off. They reach back into history and forward into the future. They connect us in networks of association to those we know and love. As you go down the socioeconomic scale, the strands are woven more densely and more of them are switched on. Together, we spun the digital poorhouse. We are all entangled in it. But many of us in the professional middle class only brush against it briefly, up where the holes in the web are wider and fewer of the strands are activated. We may have to pause a moment to extricate ourselves from its gummy grasp, but its impacts don’t linger. When my family was red-flagged for a health-care fraud investigation, we only had to wrestle one strand at a time. We weren’t also tangled in threads emerging from the criminal justice system, Medicaid, and child protective services. We weren’t knotted up in the histories of our parents or the patterns of our neighbors.

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