Chapter 7. Controlling Mobilities
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99 Chapter 7 Controlling Mobilities Concerns over new surveillance technologies and security policies tend to focus on the most obvious systems or flagrant breaches of privacy. These can include the spread of closed circuit television (CCTV) systems in urban areas, illegal government wiretapping programs, or liberal data sharing among private industries and government agencies. All the while, the rapid proliferation of digital technologies throughout everyday life creates opportunities for surveillance capabilities that resist critical investigation or public awareness.1 Transportation infrastructures offer a case in point. Transportation flows are increasingly monitored and controlled with systems of diverse technologies, yet it is difficult to envision the data generated by traveling; how others might be interpreting, sharing, and responding to those data; and how mobilities or experiences might be altered based upon individual or automated responses to those data.2 In this chapter, I investigate the surveillance and security dimensions of “intelligent transportation systems” (ITS) in the United States, with a particular focus on the mediation of data by engineers in transportation control centers. Intelligent transportation systems are being—or have been—deployed, in some fashion, in most major cities around the world. A great deal of attention has been given to the rationalizing of transportation and tracking of passengers for purposes of efficiency, security, and commercial marketing.3 Especially for public transportation, global positioning systems (GPS) and “smart card” systems can be used to track the exact location of—and identity of each person on—trains and buses.4 Similarly, smart cards embedded with radio-frequency identification (RFID) chips allow for automated electronic toll collection on highways and bridges.5 License-plate recognition systems are deployed to minimize traffic congestion by limiting entry into cities (such as London) and assessing fines if entry-time restrictions are violated.6 In-car systems such as black boxes, GPS units, or vehicle-to-vehicle communication technologies also open drivers up to increased scrutiny by insurance companies , marketers, rental car agencies, law enforcement, and, potentially, others .7 Obviously, significant national and regional variation exists with ITS. It appears likely that the United States is prioritizing ITS for highways, roads, and bridges to maximize the throughput of vehicular traffic instead of—or as a supplement to—building additional roads or lanes, whereas other countries are prioritizing ITS for public transportation systems that have been operational for decades if not longer. The concentration in this chapter will be on publicly operated highway and road-based ITS in the United States, and especially on the human mediation of these systems by transportation engineers in the southwestern United States, where I conducted interviews and observational studies.8 ITS Overview A heterogeneous network of technologies comprises ITS for highways and roads: video cameras, embedded or mounted traffic sensors, smart cards, smart-card readers, GPS devices, license-plate readers, geographic information systems (GIS), computers, software, communications equipment, fiber-optic networks, wireless networks, electrical supplies, traffic signals, emergency vehicle detection devices, and so on. The most visible public interfaces for ITS are traffic signals, which regulate the flow of motorized vehicles, bicycles, and pedestrians on streets; “dynamic message signs,” which can alert drivers to upcoming road conditions; and ramp meters, which regulate the flow of vehicles onto highways. Perhaps the most important ITS interfaces, however, are the ones hidden from public view: traffic control centers, which monitor and respond to traffic conditions through remote manipulation of the system (and its data) as a whole. The hallmarks of these control centers are their impressive and oftentimes massive “video walls,” which display road conditions in real time, whether through a graphic representation of roads and signals, CCTV video feeds, or some combination of both (see figure 2). Typically speaking, departments of transportation for states, as well as for large cities, possess the most advanced ITS. In the United States, a nationwide ITS program was established by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991,9 and the government has invested over $1 billion in the systems since then.10 Although ITS are managed by the U.S. Department of Transportation, states and cities draw upon the ITS mission and protocols to implement their own systems, relying largely upon local resources to keep systems operational. In large metropolitan regions, sensors are embedded every one-third of a mile on highways and are used to measure speed, volume , and density of traffic. Other nonvisual sensing systems include both sonar and radar detectors to fine-tune speed and volume readings. Installed every...



Subject Headings

  • National security -- United States
  • Internal security -- United States.
  • Electronic surveillance -- United States.
  • Technology -- Social aspects.
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