Connectivity, and its corollary, the ceaseless real-time extraction and algorithmic management of people’s data, are now so integral to the structure, culture and governance of societies across the world, so normalised, so embedded in everyday life, that its penal possibilities, for better or worse, were never likely to go unexploited by commercial actors or unresisted by efficiency-conscious governments (Paterson 2013; Nellis 2018). The mentality which Evgeny Morozov (2011) calls “technological solutionism” has meant that, almost everywhere, for the last forty years, penal policymakers, probation managers and penal reformers have inevitably had to reckon with the potential of ubiquitous digital connectivity and technologically-mediated communication with people for imposing punishment, securing control and/or effecting rehabilitation. Worldwide, both RF “presence monitoring” and GPS “mobility monitoring” schemes (and more recently alcohol monitoring) have been very variable in scale and intensity, and while there is no uncontested view of “best practice” in EM it has become widely accepted as a viable penal technique.
Nowhere, however, has EM yet become the dominant modality of penal control, despite occasional techno-utopian claims, especially in the USA, that as a potentially “disruptive innovation”, it could facilitate massive reductions in the size and cost of its prison system (Toombs 1995, Yeh 2010; 2014, see also Kornhauser and Laster 2014 for a sophisticated Australian version of the argument). Somewhat paradoxically, the USA – given its originating role in EM – is still a proportionately low user of it as a penal measure, and were it not for the expanding use of it in immigration control would be something of a stagnant market. Berg Insight, a Swedish business intelligence company with specialist expertise in telecoms and telematic technologies (of which, in business terms, EM is considered a type) still expects it to expand in the US in the 2016-21 period – although less than in Europe (Stalbrand 2016). Their prediction is premised less on the empirically proven worth of EM as a supervisory measure (although that exists for some uses of EM – see McIvor and Graham’s (2015) overview) and more on the increasing acceptance and normalisation of digital mediation in governance, commerce and everyday life.
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