Cybersecurity & digital territory: Nation, Identity, and Citizenship
Location 112b
Date and Start Time 02 September, 2016 at 11:00
Sessions 1


  • Winifred Poster email
  • Norma Möllers (Queen's University) email

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Short Abstract

The aim of this session is to explore cybersecurity as it configures and touches upon intersecting issues of national (in)security, national economy, and citizenship. We particularly welcome feminist, critical race, and post-colonial perspectives on cybersecurity.

Long Abstract

Although cybersecurity concerns predate the popularization of the Internet, governments across the world have only begun relatively recently to create specialized policies and organizations dedicated to cybersecurity. These in turn points to some contradictory processes in internet governance: the facilitation of exchange across borders on the one hand, and increased state intervention and regulation on the other hand. Such interventions include, among other things, massive systems of information gathering and surveillance, both on national populations and across borders. In the process, citizens are conceived of as data subjects, where tensions of nationhood are played out, identified, and remedied.

Against this backdrop, renewed state intervention can be understood as efforts to territorialize the seemingly 'borderless' world of cyberspace, targeting a range of intersecting concerns about national economies, national security, or citizenship. At the same time, in discourses of cybersecurity, constructions of 'viruses' or 'pirates' as threats to nation states are often deeply gendered and racialized, raising questions about the larger conditions which shape configurations of cybersecurity practices, technologies, and regulations.

The aim of this session is to explore cybersecurity as it configures and touches upon intersecting issues of national (in)security, national economy, or citizenship. We particularly welcome feminist, critical race, and post-colonial perspectives on cybersecurity, including the role of bodies, identities, and labors in implementation, targets and outcomes. We also welcome perspectives on the 'invisible work' involved in infrastructure maintenance and repair, as well as perspectives on failures, breakdowns, and how these are exploited by marginalized groups.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.


Proximate Evil: Algorithmic Detectives and the New Digital Surveillance of Child Abuse

Author: Mitali Thakor (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper uses feminist STS and queer studies to explore the politics of algorithmic software to detect child pornography online, and how such digital efforts mobilize a global surveillance agenda in the name of "child protection."

Long Abstract

Based on ethnographic fieldwork with policing agencies and anti-exploitation activists in the Netherlands and Thailand, as well as with software companies in the United States, this paper focuses on recent developments in software designed to locate child abuse images ("child pornography") online.

The specter of digital child violence operates within a global affective economy (S. Ahmed 2004) of hate and fear. As images of child abuse circulate within digital space they accumulate affective value and generate a sensation of "proximate" evil, an expectation of violence always possibly near yet thwarted by national boundaries. Algorithmic techniques of search allow for the identification and sorting of images of children and sex offenders online, enabling what I call algorithmic detective work. By producing a sensation of proximity in webspace, algorithmic detectives help to collapse digital distance and generate an anticipatory politics—exemplified by technologies of prediction and search—that has already identified the objects it seeks.

Following claims from queer studies of sexuality and carcerality, I argue that designers of digital tools for child protection expand policing networks and make use of the socially symbolic child as a rallying cause for the expansion of intrusive online surveillance. The end result has been a series of transnational arrests awaiting prosecution, and not in fact a reduction in child exploitation online. The exclusionary expert politics of the current anti-trafficking movement seek quick-fix technological solutions without considering strategies for alleviating overlapping systems of structural violence that make child exploitation a current reality.

Cybersecurity, America's 'War on Terror' and the Disappearing Citizen

Author: Victoria Bernal (University of California (UCLA))  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the rise of cybersecurity from a critical securitization perspective that asks how threats are constructed and who or what is to be protected.

Long Abstract

Digital media and the 'war on terror' have blurred the spatial and temporal boundaries of war and peace and of public and private. Cybersecurity is obscuring distinctions among data security, privacy, corporate interests, and national security. Where citizens' interests are represented in this domain as distinct from the interests of the government or corporations, they are more often represented as 'users' and 'consumers' than as citizens. New discourses of cyberthreat and logics of cybersecurity contribute to an unprecedented militarization of private civil and social life that now depend on digital media. The same military contractors that design weapons systems have become providers of cybersecurity. This development in post 9-11 American culture portends profound consequences for citizenship and for scholarship as we are encouraged to conceptualize information technologies as potential weapons and to envision possible social and technological futures through the constraints of a militaristic lens. This paper explores the rise of cybersecurity from a critical securitization perspective that asks how threats are constructed and who or what is to be protected. It analyzes American mainstream journalism, and statements by public officials and experts over the past few years in the context of the social history of public culture surrounding the Internet

Cybernetics, Technology, and Nation-Making in the U.S. Borderlands

Author: Iván Chaar-López (University of Michigan)  email

Short Abstract

Cybernetics was an imperial drive to digitize territories; it imagined the material world and human social life as information systems for capture. In 1970, the U.S. Border Patrol created a “cybernetic border” that was central to nation making and the management of racialized non-citizen bodies.

Long Abstract

Before the emergence of our contemporary cybersecurity milieu, the U.S.-Mexico border of the 1970s was an experimental space for the deployment of discrete surveillance systems that abstracted human bodies from their territorial settings and separated them into information flows. After the end of the Bracero Program and passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, federal officials and engineers struggled to institute order and control over the "chaotic" border. In the U.S. public imaginary the lack of control stemmed from a "flood" of immigrants overwhelming the U.S. Border Patrol. Cybernetics offered the vocabulary and technologies to secure the management and administration of border life.

At the heart of cybernetics was an imperial drive to digitize territories; it imagined the material world and human social life as information systems open for capture. This drive was manifest in 1970 when the Border Patrol installed its intrusion detection systems—the first instantiation of what I call "the cybernetic border." Tracing discourse networks in government publications and memoranda, technical reports and newspapers, I chart how the cybernetic border was central to U.S. nation-making and the management of racialized non-citizen (Latina/o) bodies.

This paper contributes to the literature on cybernetics by examining it within a borderlands framework—teasing out the production of race and the border as technologies. It puts STS and the history of technology in conversation with Latina/o studies and Digital Media Studies to reframe relations between technology, the state, race and power in nation-making.

Collective online trolling: The "Diba Expedition"

Authors: Shengnan Yang (Indiana University)  email
Pnina Fichman (Indiana University)  email

Short Abstract

We aim to unpack the concept of collective online trolling in the “Diba Expedition” and its potential impact on the existing conflicts in ideology and national identity between mainland China and Taiwan, focusing on the boundaries of the digital territory made by Great Firewall.

Long Abstract

On January 20, 2016, thousands of Chinese netizens scaled the country's "Great Firewall" and flooded the Facebook page of Taiwan's new leader, by posting anti-Taiwan independence messages. As the first large-scale effort of bypassing the digital territory, created by the Great Firewall, this campaign, known as "Diba Expedition" (DE), attracted much media attention; it was perceived as collective online trolling (COT). The DE is a compelling event to showcase behavioral pattern of Chinese netizens, who are growing in numbers as a unique online sub-culture. The DE raised attention to the everlasting disputes of ideology, territory and national identities between Mainland China and Taiwan. The Great Firewall in this socio-technical context becomes a metaphor for the ideological and physical boundaries between these two sides. With this paper we aim to gain better understanding of the collective behaviors of crossing over this digital territory and its potential impact on this conflict. Furthermore, we aim to unpack and clarify the concept of COT as it shares similar attributes with online collective actions (Agarwal, Lim, & Wigand, 2014) and resembles actions of ideologically motivated online trolls (Fichman & Sanfiliippo, 2016). Yet, it breaks away and expands the boundaries of existing conceptions of online trolling, which typically refer to individual level behaviors within the context of Anglo Saxon cultures and languages.

Cybersecurity, Borders, and Gender

Author: Winifred Poster  email

Short Abstract

Focusing on cybersecurity, this paper explores how everyday employees create, manage, and rework national borders in virtual spaces for state governments and industry. It notes how women are entering these professions, and the transforming contradictions of gender, technology, and militarism.

Long Abstract

Much focus has been put on the deterritorialization of information and data in the age of the digital. To provide an alternative view, this presentation will discuss the ways that nation and border-making are inherently part of contemporary virtual spaces. Focusing on the field of cybersecurity in the US, it will explore the ways the everyday actors (at many levels) create, manage, and rework national borders for state governments as well as industry. This extends from official information czars at the top, to cyberspies and design engineers in the middle, to security screeners at the bottom. Accordingly, new jobs are arising in the construction, patrolling, and crossing of borders online, whether the mobile actors people or data. These labors, in turn, have important implications for movements on the ground and the role of bodies in security systems. Moreover, this analysis will note curious trends in the way that women are entering many of these cybersecurity professions, and the contradictions arising with transforming notions of gender, technology, and militarism.

This track is closed to new paper proposals.