The Politics of Automated Security Infrastructure: Materialising Technical Imaginaries, Public-Private Hybrids and Discretionary Power

Authors: Nathaniel O'grady*, Univeristy of Manchester
Topics: Cyberinfrastructure, Political Geography, Communication
Keywords: Digital infrastructure, emergency, governance, power, discretion
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/10/2020
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Governors Square 10, Sheraton, Concourse Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Owing to their explorations into recent technological innovations, scholars have begun to develop new conceptualisations of automation as a set of computational practices constituted not just by inscrutable algorithmic processes but by its development in adaptation to, as well as myriad effects upon, the socio-material circumstances that it is situated within and seeks to address. The paper extends these conceptual debates and elaborates upon their bearing for how we consider the entanglement of digital technologies within broader power relations through interviews with people behind LinkNYC: a new free wifi infrastructure gradually appearing across New York City. Concentrating on its mobilisation for security purposes, I unpack LinkNYC’s application as a public emergency communication device; one that, according to its operators, has been gradually ‘automated’. The automation of technologically inflected security practices, I argue, relies on the cultivation of organisationally situated imaginaries and their materialisation through newly introduced calculative logics and the reconfiguration of relations across data platforms. The paper then outlines the political effects that follow where new understandings of automation are applied to the security-technology nexus, showing how automation redistributes authority across the public-private hybrid of organisations collectively coordinating Link infrastructure and ushers in discretionary forms of decision making beyond its oft-perceived habitat within the realms of the state.

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