Cross-Border Data

Cross-Border Data: Visiting Gelare Khoshgozaran’s Medina Wasl

Georgia Journal

An essay commissioned by Georgia Journal examining borders as sites of data extraction; the asymmetrical and racialized distribution of surveillance technologies; the digitization of colonial cartographies; and the “terrorientalist” terrain of Gelare Khoshgozaran’s Medina Wasl project.

From the essay:

Like borders, bodies are sites of continuous data mining.

A body represented as a dataset can be assigned metadata tags, indexed by the nation-state, and subjected to regulatory protocols. […]

The theorist Jasbir Puar reminds us that in the logics of U.S. homonationalism, the racially marked, Orientalized body is “one that only the exceptional capacities of U.S. intelligence and security systems can quell.” To do so requires the “cataloging of unknowables”—the translation of racialized others into repositories of information over which mastery can be exerted. Borders are among the sites where that cataloging takes place, where the “unknowable” is produced and regulated.

A border is also a site where “unknowable” bodies are processed as data by state and military actors. It operates as a zone of encounter with biometric surveillance, satellite imaging, facial recognition checkpoints, and increasingly sophisticated instruments of informatic control. A 2019 report from the Electronic Frontier Foundation reaffirmed that communities at the U.S.-Mexico border constitute “a region beset by surveillance,” cataloging “225 data points marking surveillance by local, state, and federal agencies.” Addressing these developments, the Latinx and Chicanx organizing hub Mijente describes a technologized “frontier of surveillance, a surveillance apparatus where algorithms are trained to implement racist and xenophobic policies.” Today, a border might comprise a “virtual wall” of solar sentry towers, aerial carbon-fiber drones, and autonomous perimeter systems that use machine learning tools to gather ever greater caches of information.

On the subject of border crossings, Gelare Khoshgozaran writes incisively, “Oil can cross borders; refugees cannot.”

To this we might add: Data can cross borders, refugees cannot.

Images: 1) Boundless Informant Heat Map; 2-3) Gelare Khoshgozaran, Medina Wasl: Connecting Town, 2018, digital video still.