Automating Inequality

Automating Inequality

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

Virginia Eubanks

In his famous novel 1984, George Orwell got one thing wrong. Big Brother is not watching you, he’s watching us. Most people are targeted for digital scrutiny as members of social groups, not as individuals. People of color, migrants, unpopular religious groups, sexual minorities, the poor, and other oppressed and exploited populations bear a much higher burden of monitoring and tracking than advantaged groups. Marginalized groups face higher levels of data collection when they access public benefits, walk through highly policed neighborhoods, enter the health-care system, or cross national borders. That data acts to reinforce their marginality when it is used to target them for suspicion and extra scrutiny. Those groups seen as undeserving are singled out for punitive public policy and more intense surveillance, and the cycle begins again. It is a kind of collective red-flagging, a feedback loop of injustice.

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