Ayelet Shachar & Aaqib Mahmood: The Body as the Border: A New Era. [Abstract]

COVID-19 has reminded us of the significance of borders. In 1989, with the fall of the Berlin Wall, many predicted that sealed gates would soon become relics of a bygone era. Today, we find a different reality. Instead of disappearing, borders are transforming. In this article, we build upon the shifting border logic to explore how responses to the global pandemic have accelerated processes of detachment of mobility control from a fixed territorial marker. From global travel bans to mandating pre-arrival proof of a negative test result taken within 48 or 72 hours prior to departure to requiring digital registration of a passenger’s travel history to enforcing strict post-arrival mandatory quarantine orders that arrest mobility, the shifting border paradigm has provided a template for policymakers to respond to a mounting global crisis. In addition to regulating movement across international borders and within countries, we trace the surprising return of subnational and inter-regional division lines in managing mobility, the erosion of the once taken for granted right to return to one’s home country, and the spatial and legal techniques used to block refugees from reaching terra firma during the pandemic. Next, we critically evaluate the authorization given under emergency regulations to deploy novel biometric and AI technologies, big data, and predictive algorithms to surveil moving bodies at real time and reprimand those deemed to have breached their quarantine or related governmental emergency measures. While drastic times call for drastic measures, techniques of movement control that “scan” and trace our bodies raise serious questions about justice, fairness, and the risk of discrimination, which may well remain with us even long after the pandemic is over.

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