Abstract - The Information Society 20(5)

Emergency Response Systems and the Creeping Legibility of People and Places

Michael R. Curry, David J. Phillips, and Priscilla M. Regan

Over the last thirty-five years, centralized universal-number (in the US, 9-1-1) systems have come to be the preferred means of emergency-response dispatching. The creation of these systems has motivated the development of information systems that render the landscape, to those with the right access, increasingly legible. This has been to the benefit of those receiving emergency services, but also of police and commercial interests, who have used the improved infrastructure as bases for the creation of geodemographic and other profiling systems. More recently, the creation of wireless telephony has motivated the creation of a further surveillance infrastructure built upon and integrated into that landscape. One consequence has been the commercialization of the systems in ways that permit the incorporation of more intimate and detailed data into pre-existing systems. Public concern with locational surveillance systems has focused on privacy. However, “privacy” may be an inadequate frame through which to understand these issues and to fashion appropriate responses.

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