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Join us for our panel at EUROCRIM 2023

Data-led and Digital Policing: A Global Perspective

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2

Session Submission Type: Pre-arranged Panel

Panel Abstract

This panel brings together ongoing ethnographic research on digital policing in Brazil, Norway, India, South Africa, and Germany, as part of the ‘Algorithmic Governance and Cultures of Policing’ (AGOPOL) Project funded by the Norwegian Research Council and Oslo Metropolitan University. The pandemic has provided an excuse for governments to use pervasive technologies for maintaining law and order and security for its people - reinforcing police (surveillance and digitalisation) trends of the pre-pandemic period. This panel aims to look at security practices of Brazil, South Africa, India, Europe, to understand how policing has become a melange of apps, social media, and digital technologies and data analytics that work to provide the semblance of round the clock security to people. With large amounts of information that the policing agents have access to today, policing is not just a post facto job anymore, but a constant search for the deviant, the troublemaker, the other. At the same time with social media interactions, policing and surveillance is constantly performed as moral work. These have important repercussions on privacy, liberty and freedom of speech and expression of the people. This panel aims to discuss broadly the technologies that have become ubiquitous with the institution of policing across the world, i.a. legitimised by the pandemic, that claim to be more effective, efficient, objective and neutral but in reality end up perpetuating ways of traditional policing, though with the added stamp of approval from technology. From predictive policing in Germany, quest for more AI tech in South Africa, use of digital litter in European border control, to the use of social media by the special forces in Brazil and the lateral use of data collected by resident welfare associations for surveillance and control, this panel will show that digitalisation and datafication are increasingly defining everyday policing.

Paper 1

MyGate: Convenience or pervasive surveillance? A study of the app usage in a gated community in NCR'

Shivangi Narayan, JNU

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2


In India, the phenomenon of ‘Resident welfare Associations’ (RWA) has unleashed 24X7 surveillance on the residents and workers of these associations. The latest in their armour is a management application called MyGate which offers a host of services to the RWA to manage and control both residents and workers who provide their services inside the complex. The foremost feature of the app is to record attendance of the workers, send notifications about entry and exit of workers, guests, cars, and delivery workers from the society and call out any untoward behaviour from them. MyGate carries a meta data on all residents regarding the number of workers they employ, their entry and exit from the residential complex, and the kinds of deliveries they call for. Similarly for the workers, it provides minute by minute detail of their whereabouts as they not only have to check in when they enter/exit the society but also when they enter or exit individual buildings in the society. Without a data protection law and unbridled access for police everywhere, this is what I call as ‘lateral policing’, which shows the ways in which police are not just involved when a crime is committed but have become a constant in the lives of people. Based on ethnographic fieldwork in a gated residential complex in the National Capital Region of Delhi, I argue that the design of the gated complex, and its use of apps such as MyGate, not only police everyday life of both residents and workers but also provide a ready store of data for the police to use at their own discretion.

Paper 2

“We’re all dreaming AI”: Speculative Fantasies and Technologies of Desire in South African Policing

Tessa Diphoorn, Utrecht University

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2


Within the pluralized policing landscape of South Africa, there is an increased use of technologies and digitalized media for the fundamental purpose of crime detection, prevention, proactive policing, and analysis. Amidst these technological advancements, artificial intelligence (AI) has become the new “buzzword” and there is a great amount of aspiration for the increased use of AI. Artificial intelligence is described as a solution to human-based problems that will provide abundant opportunities for more proactive policing. Yet at the same time, there is also a lack of knowledge on what AI is and how it operates. In this paper, I reflect on this paradox and discuss what ‘dreaming of AI’ reveals about perceptions of both technologies and security. I introduce the notion of ‘speculative fantasies’ to show that this ‘dreaming of AI’ is simultaneously a process of yearning as well as a mode of economic activity that produces certain capitalist ideas about the role of the private security industry in South Africa. This dreaming is not simply about fantasising about what is possible, but it is also about consolidating a particular capitalist project with certain power structures.

Paper 3

Predictive Policing: On Algorithms and Community Policing

Simon Egbert & Elena Esposito, Bielefeld University

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2


We present empirical data from our field research on predictive policing in Germany, focusing on an organisational unit using machine learning algorithms to analyse the connection between space and crime, trying to make these findings useful and actionable for the police units on the street. This organisational unit was founded out of a predictive policing project and meanwhile no longer only pursues the classic predictive policing approach of showing increased patrol presence in predicted risk areas in order to deter (in the short term) inclined offenders. Rather, it also pursues approaches which focus much more on long-term prevention strategies and in which the police work very closely with local actors and communities in the crime problem-solving process. This empirical observation leads us to critically question the thesis, familiar from the discussion on Abstract Police, that digital technologies in general and predictive policing in particular lead to more abstract police work. Hence, we aim to reconsider the debate on abstract policing, understood as a tendency for policing to become increasingly rigid, formalized, and distant from citizens. Partly because of the persistent ambiguity in the use of the concept of community policing, the debate in our view is vitiated by confusion between two different distinctions: the distinction anonymous/personal and the distinction acontextual/contextual (local). The notion of abstractness brings them both together, while the conditions and consequences of the two distinctions are significantly different. In the first case it is a matter of whether or nor police officers have direct contacts with citizens and know them in person, in the second case the presence or absence of a local reference that considers the specificity of each context. Thus, police activity can be impersonal and contextual, or personal and non-local, adding complexity to the notion of abstract police with regard to predictive policing practices.

Paper 4

Guns, Fatigues, and Fitness: Elite Squad Instagramming in Rio de Janeiro’s Everyday War on Crime

Tomas Salem, University of Bergen

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2


In Brazil as elsewhere, policing is currently being reshaped by the emergence of social media as a multifaceted tool for horizontal communication within police institutions, gathering of intelligence and surveillance, public visibility, and the crafting of institutional identities. In this paper, co-authored with Erika Robb Larkins, the social media use of Rio de Janeiro’s Special Forces (Batalhão de Operações Especiais, BOPE) is analyzed as a militarization of the everyday. As an elite combat squad, BOPE officers regularly engage in highly militarized forms of policing in Rio de Janeiro’s favelas. At the same time, their on-the-ground actions are complemented by a social media presence which offers documentation of the squad’s activities while also cultivating an aesthetics of identity and self. Showing how militarized policing is visually and textually constructed as moral work, the paper examines the intersecting tropes of war, religion, health, and family which appear as a central symbolic element in BOPE’s instagram account. Their social media presence is analyzed as a form of digital police work that penetrates the intimate and militarizes the everyday and mundane. Understanding how police use of social media contributes to the production of an everywhere and everyday war on crime, or cosmology of war, is of paramount importance for any political project that seeks to challenge the weaponization of security discourses and re-emergence of the far right.

Paper 5

Outsourcing security intelligence: the risks of digital litter in migration control practices

Veronika Nagy, Utrecht University

Fri, September 8, 9:30 to 10:45am, Palazzo Affari, Floor: second floor, Affari 2


With the datafication of human mobilities and the growing commodification of surveillance practices, such as high tech border control, securitization of migrants has become a core subject of policing studies. National law enforcement practitioners are under growing pressure of the public discourse and tend to increasingly rely on information of third parties, like global corporate security companies and transnational NGOs to collect and on up to data information. With the growing attention to migration and the increasing use of mobile technologies, new service strategies have been developed by different stakeholders like UNHCR in order to provide fast, transparent and efficient services to people across the borders. Many of these technologies, like digital payment methods are introduced in the framework of humanitarian support of migrants, however, as many biometric experiments in refugee camps have been illustrated, these digital data infrastructures are also regularly commodified as a so-called `security intelligence`. Though basic registration was always part of the tasks of humanitarian organisations, their presence and first-hand contact with refugees or asylum seekers also contributed to their complex role in digitised administrative decision-making in which data is often unverified, manipulated, or outdated. The neoliberal pressure of governments towards NGOs increasingly reinforces the need for efficient and sustainable service provisions by increased data processing and identification practices, including biometric authentication systems. However, this data is also accessible for third party tech companies that may use such data for commercial purposes in the context of state corporate migration control measures. Based on a discourse analysis, this paper aims to explore the risks and limitations of outsourced security intelligence practices established by nongovernmental data infrastructures, in particular considering the role of `digital waste`.

Our participation is supported by The Research Council of Norway under project no. 313626 ALGORITHMIC GOVERNANCE AND CULTURES OF POLICING: Comparative Perspectives from Norway, India, Brazil, Russia, and South Africa (AGOPOL)


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