Data Collection, Surveillance & Identity

As J. Bennet describes in Vibrant Matter, over the years, inanimate objects have embedded and integrated themselves in our lives so well that we are dependent on them for survival. Take the MetroCard for example, it is simply a piece of polyester that physically has no meaning to us, however, it materializes a certain amount of money with which we can take the subway or a bus. As Bennet mentions, American materialism has become hidden, trying to conceal the vitality of matter. According to the author’s framework, the subway would be an assemblage, made of tiny parts that are interconnected. We have become distanced from the inner workings of this mechanism, however, every shift in this assemblage results in a social, political or physical vibratory. As the MTA tries to battle fare evasion, how do these shifts in assemblage affect us?


Police presence has increased in the Bronx

There has been a large increase in police activity when governor Cuomo deployed over 500 police officers in the subway system for fare evasion control. When traveling to Hunts Point, NY, I noticed a larger police presence underground in the Bronx than anywhere else on Manhattan. When crossing to the Bronx on the 5 subway line, you can immediately see more officers. The perspective of this population surveillance shifts when looking at it through the recent political movement #BlackLivesMatter, caused by police brutality in the past years. In The Transmission of Affect, T. Brennan writes about how energy and emotions can be absorbed by another group. The senses, like sight, add to the transmission of affect. As humans, our threat becomes more increased naturally when there is an association to it. For people who live in the Bronx, coming to work has become more difficult due to the power that the NYPD uniform symbolizes.


New methods of surveillance with cameras and facial recognition

However, physical human surveillance is not as terrifying as hidden surveillance. As M. Hogan describes in Data is Inborn, data is more political than ever. He argues that data can be used as a tool for surveillance and control, and with the new technologies that allow for facial recognition and smaller cameras, the line between security and espionage becomes blurred. On one hand, the idea of a controlled society with no imperfections, like the panopticon, seem great for improving economy, morality and education, but in reality it does not work because it prioritizes overall needs over individual ones. In this dataistical society, data is more valuable than humans.

An area like Hunts Point in the Bronx obviously has a lesser GDP than Manhattan, but is it a just reason to send more police officers there? Do these decisions stem from fear of the other? Based on most of human history, the source of the problem might not only be the MTA losing money for fare evasion, but also fear and the need for control of minorities.


The MTA has yet to fix its issues

Mass surveillance has become even easier using facial recognition technologies. Like Hogan says, data stored in the DNA has become proprietary, owned and sellable, so it is easier to collect information on people, like a databank. Is this domestication of espionage on people fair?

Our privacy is at risk, and the MTA spending even more money on surveillance will not help fare evasion, especially when many of the subway’s infrastructural issues has not been fixed, as well as the fare prices increasing.

Works Cited:

Bennett, Jane. Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things. Duke University Press, 2010.

Brennan, Teresa. The Transmission of Affect. Cornell University Press, 2004.

CBS. “Fare Evasion On The Rise, Costing MTA Hundreds Of Millions Of Dollars.” CBS New York, CBS New York, 18 June 2019,

Hogan, Mél. Data is airborne; Data is inborn: The labor of the body in technoecologies. First Monday2018.

~ by asalifov on September 28, 2019.

4 Responses to “Data Collection, Surveillance & Identity”

  1. MOST INFORMATIVE – The captions for the images work well in this blog post. It is a small detail but it makes the content much more digestible for the reader. There are also a lot of stats used in the post itself, which further makes the ecology more accessible.

  2. Learned from/Most informative: “inanimate objects have embedded and integrated themselves in our lives so well that we are dependent on them for survival.”This is something that I haven’t thought of before reading Bennet’s Vibrant matter. The example you gave of the Metrocard perfectly explains how this object has to meaning to us but it does materialize to an amount of money. Also the captions for the images and statistics really portrayed the issue.

  3. Most Informative: your images bring out various aspects of surveillance and issues within the MTA system, and are detail-oriented. Your connection to politics and demographic are also very important points to be made, and are integral to the importance of the argument.

  4. Learned From/Most informative: Thoroughly lays out extent of surveillance apparatus of MTA and NYPD, also connecting it to media theory concepts, well done.

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