Surveillance, Ubiquity, Granularity

in Screen Bodies
Damien Smith Pfister
Search for other papers by Damien Smith Pfister in
Current site
Google Scholar
Restricted access

In the wake of the mass shootings in Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, the Trump Administration floated the creation of a new governmental agency named HARPA, the Health Advanced Research Projects Agency, modeled after DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, that could explore novel ways of curtailing gun violence. For an administration unwilling to entertain serious legislation to address the problem of gun violence in the United States, HARPA offered a way to appear to be doing something about gun violence. HARPA, advocates maintained, could house a project called SAFEHOME, an acronym for “Stopping Aberrant Events by Helping Overcome Mental Extremes.” SAFEHOME would use “breakthrough technologies with high specificity and sensitivity for early diagnosis of neuropsychiatric violence”; the proposal would draw on data from Apple Watches, Fitbits, Amazon Echo, and Google Home to predict when someone might be on the cusp of mass violence (Alemany 2019). The guiding assumption of SAFEHOME is that surveillance of this biophysical data, combined with extant surveillance of textual messaging, search patterns, social networking sites, and discussion boards would alert law enforcement officials to a prospective shooter. Think Minority Report (2002, Steven Spielberg) with digital surveillance technology playing the role of psychic precogs. SAFEHOME is probably (hopefully) a nonstarter in serious conversations about gun violence, given the tenuous link between mental health, physical disposition, and violence; the inevitability of data-profiling being articulated to minoritized subjects and false positives (imagine the first time SAFEHOME flags a SWAT team on someone having sex) and obvious concerns about such an invasive surveillance regime. But the very fact that a program like SAFEHOME is posed as a potentially credible solution points to a dimension of surveillance that complements this forum's discussion of ubiquity: granularity.

  • Collapse
  • Expand

Screen Bodies

The Journal of Embodiment, Media Arts, and Technology

  • Alemany, Jacqueline. 2019. “White House Considers New Project Seeking Links Between Mental Health and Violent Behavior.” Washington Post, 22 August.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Andrejevic, Mark. 2019. “Automating Surveillance.” Surveillance & Society 17 (1–2). doi:.

  • Eubanks, Virginia. 2018. Automating Inequality: How High-Tech Tools Profile, Police, and Punish the Poor. New York: St. Martin's Press.

  • Ghaffary, Shirin. 2019. “The ‘Smarter’ Wall: How Drones, Sensors, and AI Are Patrolling the Border.Vox, 16 May.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Jindia, Shilpa. 2018. “Secret Surveillance and the Legacy of Torture Have Paralyzed the USS Cole Bombing Trial at Guantánamo.” The Intercept, 5 March.

    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Noble, Safiya Umoja. 2018. Algorithms of Oppression: How Search Engines Reinforce Racism. New York: New York University Press.

  • Vicaro, Michael Paul. 2016. “Deconstitutive Rhetoric: The Destruction of Legal Personhood in the Global War on Terrorism.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 102 (4): 333352. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation
  • Woods, Heather Suzanne. 2018. “Asking More of Siri and Alexa: Feminine Persona in Service of Surveillance Capitalism.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 35 (4): 334349. doi:.

    • Crossref
    • Search Google Scholar
    • Export Citation


All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 662 367 15
Full Text Views 83 7 2
PDF Downloads 94 5 2