A hierarchy of vulnerability

Erez Cross (photo: Alice Rothchild)
Having freedom of movement is a privilege that is fraught with modern dangers in the context of ever expanding state and global surveillance.

By Alice Rothchild | Mondoweiss  | Feb 1, 2020

 …the most relevant book I read on the issue of borders was Francisco Cantu’s The Line Becomes a River, Dispatches from the Border. Cantu wrote eloquently of his experiences as a US border patrol agent, his realization that there are no “good” border guards (or soldiers at checkpoints for that matter), when the institutions themselves are corrupted.

I was recently passing through customs where I popped my US passport face down on a little machine which then opened a gate that led to two yellow footprints in the next compartment. I placed my feet on the footprints, faced the camera, tried to look like my friendly passport photo, and bam, the next gate opened and I was in. It occurred to me that this is both reassuring and creepy. The fact that I have “papers” means that I officially exist, that I am recognized on this planet as a human with some value and protections. Someone in officialdom (not to mention my husband and daughters) will notice if I disappear.

The fact that surveillance systems (at least in the First World), all recognize my passport and my face, can check the criminal history/no fly/terrorist watch list in two seconds flat, and come back “All good,” is actually frightening. As you are probably increasingly aware, between our i-phones, social media, public surveillance cameras, credit card history, and every airport we breeze through or wait for hours, our existence, buying habits, and locations are being closely watched and recorded.

International travel easily provokes some serious thinking about borders and freedom of movement. For me it was an ample opportunity to observe and ponder my first world privileges and the insanities and cruelties that pass for borders and the institutions that create and guard them. I am also old enough to wonder, how did we lose the privacy that we used to take for granted? Or maybe didn’t even know we had, until it was lost.

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