The Criminalization of Mobile Research?

(Full post and URLs at: , and more info at

The recent threats from Oklahoma’s Senator James Inhofe to bring criminal charges against climate researchers is just another sign that academic freedom is increasingly viewed as threat to the right wing agenda. Our experience with the Transborder Immigrant Tool research project is demonstrating more of the same.

The TBTool project is designed to produce a functioning “last mile” public safety platform that is informed by the tragic consequences of a United States Immigration policy designed to allow millions of low cost laborers to enter the US while simultaneously appeasing Minutemen/Tea Party types with thousands of deportations and hundreds of terrible deaths due to dehydration and exposure to the elements. Operating in the fuzzy boundaries between art and technology practice, the project seeks to repurpose inexpensive mobile phones for short distance, emergency navigation. Pertinently and readily apparent to anyone who has ever used an outdoor GPS device, the TBTool is not for long distance overland navigation. Yet opposition to this public safety art research is coming from those who simultaneously refuse to address the true nature of the research, presumably to preserve a status quo that ensures hundreds of sacrificial deaths on an imaginary alter of national security that serves the emotional needs of right wing political constituencies.

This is certainly confirmed by Congressman Duncan Hunter’s recent response to me, wherein he steered away from my direct questions about his use of apparently feared nationalities in the context of his willful mischaracterization of the Transborder Immigrant Tool. In spite of his appreciation of "the technology’s humanitarian element", he insists "the technology would ultimately serve as a tool to help individuals illegally cross." As I pointed out in my original email to his office, as a US Marine, the Congressman should know the difference between a Garmin GPS available at Best Buy in Tijuana and our short distance emergency navigation project. Apparently, facts shall not stand in the way of politically useful fear tactics. (My mind wanders, but there are also clear relationships between the latter and the conditions of violent rhetoric leveraged by the Congressman’s own party in the recent debate over national health care, which can be compared to the recently posted flames page on the Transborder Immigrant Tool website.)

The emotional needs of Congressman Hunter’s constituency should not be allowed to bring a stop to software research that is, after all, a mere bandage for the real human suffering and damage to our international reputation that our current Kabuki theater of an immigration policy has wrought. Congressman Hunter, respectfully, we remain undeterred.