Virtual Borders and Surveillance in the Digital Age :: Visit-US

David Burns

My paper, Virtual Borders and Surveillance in the Digital Age :: Visit-US, explores the ways in which national border controls have been updated and expanded through the use of digital technology and electronic surveillance. The transition from an emphasis on physical border controls to an emphasis on virtual border controls reflects a paradigm shift from a disciplinary society to a control society. Whereas in the past, visas and passports offered only a limited amount of foreign individuals’ data at physical borders, new technology allows nations to instantaneously collect, monitor, and control a far greater amount of personal data from decentralized virtual access points. Computer networks and databases have added a digital dimension to Foucauldian panopticism and expanded the ways in which nations can continually monitor and control visitors’ entry to their borders. My paper investigates the three major tiers of developments in surveillance: global monitoring, ubiquitous computing technology combined with the pervasive use of biometrics, and the creation of virtual borders.

Visit-US is the accompanying animation to be screened as a part of the paper presentation. In this animation, green and red spheres travel along a network of transparent information highways that connect to a virtual border. To pass through this elastic and modulating dynamic border, spheres must be cleared at gateways. The green spheres, representative of the data of those who have been cleared to enter the nation, are granted access to the border via open gateways. In contrast, the red spheres, representative of the data of those who have been denied access to the nation, are prohibited from entering the gateways. On the network, green and red spheres are constantly monitored as data is dynamically updated. As the spheres approach the border, the transparency of the information highways allows observers to easily monitor the visitors’ data. This instantaneous access to massive amounts of personal data allows nations to increase the surveillance and control they have over the visitors who wish to cross their borders.

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