Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

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

Virginia Eubanks

There is a long history of social services and the police collaborating to criminalize the poor in the United States. The most direct parallel is Operation Talon, a joint effort of the Office of Inspector General and local welfare offices that mined food stamp data to identify those with outstanding warrants, and then lured them to appointments regarding their benefits. When targeted recipients arrived at the welfare office, they were arrested. According to Kaaryn Gustafson’s 2009 article “The Criminalization of Poverty,” before the 1996 welfare reforms, public assistance records were only available to law enforcement through legal channels. But today, she writes, “Welfare records are available to law enforcement officers simply upon request—without probable cause, suspicion, or judicial process of any kind.” 10 Operation Talon and other initiatives like it use administrative data to turn social service offices into extensions of the criminal justice system.

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