FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Terrifying World of Electronic Monitoring

by JAMES KILGORE

I spend a considerable part of my life doing research and writing about electronic monitors-those  black plastic ankle bracelets best known for landing on the legs of a number of the rich and notorious-Martha Stewart, Paris Hilton, Michael Vick, and Charley Sheen, just to name a few.  I hear stories about house arrest and the absurd sets of obstacles authorities put in peoples’ way as they try to wend their way back into life post-incarceration while being tracked by the latest technology.

I reflect a lot about little computer chips and spying and what some lawyers call the deprivation of liberty by technological means.  In essence, electronic monitoring is about tracking and marking. The GPS technology that is trending  in electronic monitors tracks people’s every movement with the purpose of marking them for punishment if they deviate from the program (or at least if the technology reports that they have deviated from the program.)

Though everyone keeps telling me that at least being on a monitor is better than being in prison, (which I agree with, having done both) I keep telling them they are missing the point. The point is that we need to have some control over this technology, some clear rules, guidelines and ideas about what it should and should not be allowed to do, that while it may be applied to those “guilty” of a crime today, we don’t actually know who is next.

Edward Snowden’s revelations have awakened people to this sort of reality since NSA surveillance is all about tracking and marking. Only the NSA is monitoring everyone-tracking and marking, though none of us are exactly sure who is being marked, why they are being marked or what the consequences of that marking will be. We are leaving the whole process to the security and technology experts to decide. They will determine what patterns of telecommunications amount to a threat or a violation warranting action by the authorities.

None of this comes as a big shock to me since I have seen how with the advance of GPS, people on parole who are minding their own business trying to do what normal people do-shop, get their laundry done, play with their child in the park, are constantly presented with the record of their movements.  If they stop at an address that is not on the approved list, if they go to a store that is not on the approved list they run the risk of being violated and either kept under lockdown (24 hour a day house arrest) or sent back to prison.

Not long ago I heard the story of a man who stopped for nine minutes at a house a block away from where he lived to ask about some things the owner was selling. Those nine minutes got sent to the parole office via his GPS tracker and he got a few days of lockdown in response.  The neighbor’s address was not on the approved list.

And then there are the dozen cases in Wisconsin unveiled by journalist Mario Koran where the GPS device falsely reported people  as out of the house when they were at home.  Aaron Hicks served 51 days in jail for what he claims was one of those false violations. You can’t argue with the facts. As one man on monitoring who chose to remain anonymous because he’s still on parole told me, “we are the guinea pigs.”

But this mark and track process hit a new low last week with the release of Gregory Johnsen’s Atlantic magazine story about an eight year old Yemeni boy named Barq al-Kulaybi.  Once an impoverished  street child in the village of Baty-al-Ahmar, al-Kulaybi had been taken in by an apparently kind man named Adnan al-Qadhi.  Unbeknownst to the little boy, Yemeni authorities (and likely the CIA)  suspected al-Qadhi of having links with Al Qaeda.  In a bizarre translated video, al-Kulaybi told the story of how last year his biological father, a member of the Yemeni  Republican Guard, and some fellow security personnel persuaded him to plant a computer chip on al-Qadhi.  Given precise instructions on how to activate the chip, the boy explained how he dropped it into the man’s coat pocket when al-Qadhi was out of the room.  The boy had kicked off a track and mark process with a tragic ending.  On November 7, 2012 a US drone strike killed al-Qadhi. Subsequently, Al Qaeda kidnapped the boy and his father and produced the video mentioned above.  According to a Johnsen interview on Democracy Now, Al-Qaeda has apparently executed the boy’s father.  Tracking and marking can be a deadly business.

The story of Barq al-Kulaybi is disturbing on many levels.  The use of an eight year old boy as an operative in this instance qualifies as one of the low points even in the murky amoral world of surveillance.  But the real problem is that like with the NSA monitors and with the parole agents who put people on lockdown at their own discretion, there is no process of accountability, not even any transparent guidelines of operation.  The technology experts (read: boys with toys) are in the driver’s seat and following a map that no one else can see, much less read. I wish the case of Barq al-Kulaybi would give people pause, would at least occasion a few  sighs of distress before we think about how small these chips are going to be in the future, all the new “apps” they will have, who will control them and whose pocket they may end up in. Who is next to be tracked and marked? By the way, have you switched off your cellphone?

James Kilgore is a research scholar at the Center for African Studies at the University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign). He writes on issues of mass incarceration with a focus on electronic monitoring and labor. He is also the author of three novels, all of which he drafted during his six and a half years in prison, 2002-09.  He can be contacted at waazn1@gmail.com  

 

 

James Kilgore is a writer and activist based in Urbana, Illinois. He spent six and a half years in prison. During those years, he drafted three novels which have been published since his release in 2009. His latest book, Understanding Mass Incarceration: A People’s Guide to the Key Civil Rights Struggle of Our Era will be published by The New Press in September. He can be contacted at waazn1@gmail.com

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail