20 Years After 9/11, Surveillance Has Become a Way of Life


Two decades later 9/11, many simple acts that were once done that were impossible are now undetected: wandering with loved ones at the gate on their flight, strolling through a plaza of companies, using the streets nearby in government buildings. The instructions in our towns are now covered in steel and surveillance. Amid the frequent pandemics of the past year and a half, the towns are even more walled off. With each new barrier erected, many parts of the city’s definition are cut off: freedom of movement, roaming, and even, as Walter Benjamin puts it, “losing a road… like one lost on the road. in a forest. “

It’s harder to get lost in the middle of constant tracking. It is also more difficult to assemble freely when the public spaces between home and work are emptied. Known third place, they are the connective tissue that sews the fabric of modern communities: the public park where teenagers can skateboard next to grandparents playing chess, the library where children learn to read and non-human beings can find a digital life line. If the third areas disappear, as has happened since the attack, the communities could melt away.

Without these spaces to unite us, citizens would live in far more diverse societies operating in the same way. Just as social-media echo chambers damage our capacity for online conversations, the loss of third areas can create physical echo chambers.

America has never been more adept at defending our third place. For enslaved and indigenous peoples, simply entering the town square could be a death penalty. Later, Jim Crow’s racial terrorism in the South denied Black Americans not only voting, but also access to lunch counters, public travel, and even a literal water cooler. In northern cities like New York, Black Americans still face arrest and violence for violating rigid, but invisible, segregation codes.

Throughout the 20th century, New York built an excluded infrastructure to prevent our unsuspecting neighbors from participating in the town’s institutions that were, by law, in every respect. of them to occupy. In 1999, former mayor Rudy Giuliani warned of homelessness to New Yorkers that “The streets are not in civilized societies for the purpose of the people sleeping there.” His threats prompted thousands of NYPD officers to systematically target and push the left-hand side out of sight, thus semi-privatizing the quintessential public place.

Despite these limitations, before 9/11 millions of New Yorkers could walk and walk in many networks of modern people – public parks, private plazas, trails, sidewalks, open lots, and community gardens, crossing paths they never could. met. These random encounters electrified our town and gave us a united sense of self. That divided void began to disappear 20 years ago, and if we don’t watch, it will disappear forever.

In the aftermath of the attacks, we heard patriotic innovations from those who promised to “protect democracy.” But in the following years, their defense became the greatest threat to democracy, rebuilding towns as security voids. The billions we spend to “protect our way of life” have proven to be futile, and it’s unclear if we can turn the trend around.

In a country where the term “papers, please” has the same meaning as the foreign authority, photo ID has become a constant requirement. Before 9/11, a New Yorker could spend their entire day traveling through the city without the need for ID. Now it is necessary to enter almost any large building or institution.

While the ID check has become a muscle memory for millions of privileged New Yorkers, it is a source of uncertainty and fear for others. Millions of Americans lack a photo ID, and for millions more, the use of ID is a risk, a source of data for Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

According to Mizue Aizeki, interim executive director of the New York -based Immigrant Defense Project, “ID systems are especially vulnerable to being surveillance tools.” Aizeki added, “The collection and analysis of data has become a major factor in ICE’s ability to identify and track immigrants,” noting that the Department of Homeland Security has significantly increased its support for surveillance systems. since its inception post-9/11.

ICE spends millions partnering with companies like Palantir, the controversial data aggregator that sells information services to governments at home and abroad. Vendors can collect digital sign-in lists from buildings where we display our IDs, face recognition in squares, and countless other surveillance devices that track areas in around office buildings with an almost identical level of surveillance. According to Aizeki, “as the vigilance of immigrants increases, promoters are faced with a rapidly growing state of vigilance.”



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