“YA’LL NEED TO HIDE YOUR KIDS, HIDE YOUR WIFE”: DATABASES, AFFECT AND RISK – THE CASE OF SEX OFFENDER TRACKING APPLICATIONS

Sharif Mowlabocus

Abstract


Responding to the increasing moral panic around (in particular) child sex offending, a raft of communication technologies have recently been deployed as a means of ‘managing’ sex offenders upon release from prison and/or as part of their continuing sentence (see Fabelo, 2000; Logan, 2000; and Button et al. 2009 for discussion). The most obvious example of such technologies are the ‘magic bracelets’ (Whitfield, 2001) worn by paroled offenders. These remap space for the offender, creating new zones of inclusion and exclusion within their local surroundings (see Troshyinski et al., 2008 and Shklovski et al., 2009).

Alongside tagging practices, other monitoring technologies have become integral to sex offender policing. In the USA, the Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act (SORNA) of 2006 mandated the creation of a national database of registered sex offenders. SORNA’s focus on registration and notification has regularly been framed as a public service, carried out by public officials with a public mandate. However, while sex offender data continues to be collected by public agencies, community notification practices have taken on a new shape – one that problematizes the civic dimension of SORNA, and reorganizes the relationship between the offender, technologies of surveillance and the private consumer.

In this paper, I offer a critical reading of the remediation work involved in translating public sex offender databases into private ‘services’. Beginning with a visual analysis of the most popular ‘offender-locator’ applications, I utilize the work of Valiaho (2012) to highlight the ‘anticipatory’ dimension of this software. I situate anticipation as an affective state more commonly found within entertainment media (computer games). In doing so, I also situate my paper within an ongoing discussion regarding the political- economy of digital media (see Stallabrass, 1996; Burston, 2003; Stockwell & Muir, 2003; Gazzard, 2009 and Huntemann & Payne’s (eds.), 2010). The adoption of this anticipatory state in this context underpins the development of a new set of social relations - between the user and the database; the user and the sex offender; and the user and their own lived environment.