Life as an Extreme Sport

The Panoptic Airport

Foucault would have a field day with this… Just a quick read of the article brings up numerous implementation and technology issues with this (leaving aside the ethical, social and privacy related issues). For example, how do you keep the RFID tag on someone until they get on the plane? Do you give the person a new RFID at every airport? Do they keep the tag with them the entire trip? How do you keep them from swapping tags, or simply discarding it in a plant? How easy would it be to disable or mask one, and could the system pick that up if it happened?

And that’s just a minute or two of speculation. Give me an hour, and I could fill several pages, I’m sure.

One comment

  1. Let me preface by saying I suppose it is rude to have a comment post be longer than the actual blog posting. So if I am committing a blog faux pas I apologize in advance. 🙂

    This is an interesting bit of tech. This sounds more like a mechanism in what Delueze would call “Control Society” as opposed to Foucault’s “Discipline Society”.

    To quote Deleuze:

    “The conception of a control mechanism, giving the position of any element within an open environment at any given instant (whether animal in a reserve or human in a corporation, as with an electronic collar), is not necessarily one of science fiction. Felix Guattari has imagined a city where one would be able to leave one’s apartment, one’s street, one’s neighborhood, thanks to one’s (individual) electronic card that raises a given barrier; but the card could just as easily be rejected on a given day or between certain hours; what counts is not the barrier but the computer that tracks each person’s position–licit or illicit–and effects a universal modulation.”

    That’s the ultimate implementation of this RFID system. Sure you could flush the chip down a toilet, but then you can’t get anywhere in the airport without it. Perhaps they place an RFID chip in your boarding pass. You cannot move anywhere without it because of constant scanning for the RFID. And therefore containment and control is achieved. Surveillance is a secondary benefit, it would seem to me.

    But back to the Panopticon. Foucault and Jeremy Bentham would certainly be amused. The genius of the Panopticon is that it allowed one to see all others without being seen. However this required a striated and confined space such as the kind of prison that Bentham developed. The point being that the prisoner always felt like they were being watched but could never know for sure because of the panopticon design.

    There are other interesting examples of modern day panopticons. One that comes to my mind is the modern checkerless check out stands at grocery stores, at least the ones where they don’t station a checker to observe. I remember an Albertson’s near where I lived instituted one of these and they had a little web cam trained on the scanner. The genius of this system was that it didn’t necessarily require that anyone even be present to watch the video for incidences of theft. The mere presence of the camera imposed a panoptic presence on the customer. You could never be certain that there was someone behind the camera so the customer invariably conforms and obeys. This was in the early days of checkerless checkouts. Now days it seems to be standard practice to have a human stand near the checkerless machines. I doubt this has to do with concerns of theft, and more likely to do with the craptacular usability of the machines. So you need a human on standby to help the noob scan their groceries. Labor contracts and grocery clerk unions aside.

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