Beyond the Body Camera: Wearables and Inwardly Expanding the Public Safety Toolkit

Wednesday, 18 July 2018: 15:45
Oral Presentation
Debra MACKINNON, Queen's University, Canada
David MURAKAMI WOOD, Queen's University, Canada
From body temperature sensors for firefighters and mine rescue workers, to body cameras for police officers and biomechanical monitoring systems for military personnel, wearable technologies are increasingly being marketed to the public safety sector. On the ground information about the conditions and context of work is no longer limited to verbal feedback or post hoc reports, but instead can stream directly and immediately from a sensor-enriched workforce. By tracking and recording a biometric and an audio-visual account of an event or incident, these devices promise the faster detection, prediction and analysis of events and employee performance. While tracking the productivity and health and safety of employees is not new, many are concerned about the potential for these devices to extend various powers of surveillance inside the body. By expanding the public safety “tool kit” – already outfitted with facial and optical recognition technologies, predictive algorithms, and data mining practices – wearables render our body and our surroundings as information. The body, the self, produced through monitoring is not only the subject of scientific measurement and interpretation, it is also the product – a resource to be managed, controlled, and optimized (Foucault, 1975; Lupton 2016; O’Neil, 2017). Given the hype and nascent stage of wearable adoption, this paper focuses on the supply side of 15 public safety wearable devices. Through a discursive analysis of the promotion of body cameras, exoskeletons and smart glasses, I argue the adoption by the public safety sector of sensor technologies and big data analytics reinforces a project of subjectification, as total information awareness and quantified-self logics align with institutional conceptions of bodies as instruments and resources.