Accepted paper:

Drones, Borders, Audits: The US-Mexico Border and the Internet of Things


Lauren Kilgour (Cornell University)

Paper short abstract:

This presentation reports results from a two-stage pilot study examining US drone surveillance of the US-Mexico border, and advances critical conversations about the roles that the “internet of things” is playing in contemporary border control procedures between the global north and south.

Paper long abstract:

How has it become permissible for the US government to surveil the US-Mexico border with unmanned aerial vehicles (i.e., drones), and what are some of the larger social and cultural implications of using such vehicles in this context? I respond to this question through reporting the results from a two-stage study in two parts. Part one shares the results of historical research on the US-Mexico "borderlands," and describes dangers experienced by migrants without documentation attempting to cross into the US from Central and South America in both the past and present. I also describe how the growing turn to remote digital technologies for the work of everyday border patrol builds on older efforts to render the US-Mexico border less porous, but also creates a new "safety dead-zone" in the borderlands by removing human presence in moments of crisis and danger experienced by migrants. Part two shares the results of a discourse analysis of the most recent (2014) Inspector General's audit report of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft system program. Specifically, I trace how the CBP is attempting to retain its use of drone border surveillance by discrediting the auditing procedures. The larger aim of this project is to think about technology, boundaries, and borders in the early days of the "internet of things." The internal debate surrounding drones is unfolding in a manner reminiscent of other technological controversies but also raises new, specific questions about the growing autonomy of vehicles and the shrinking autonomy of (im)migrants.

panel T085
Infrastructures, subjects, politics