“These systems make our values visible to us in a way that calls us to a moral reckoning.”
Technology is being used to target and punish poor people in America, according to a new book by Virginia Eubanks, a professor of political science at the University of Albany, SUNY.
Here’s one example: In 2014, Maine Gov. Paul LePage released data to the public detailing over 3,000 transactions from welfare recipients using EBT cards in the state. (EBT cards are like state-issued debit cards, and can be used to disperse benefits like food stamps.)
LePage created a list of every time this money had been used in a strip club, liquor store, or bar, and used it to push his political agenda of limiting access to state benefits. LePage’s list represents a tiny fraction of overall EBT withdrawals, but it effectively reinforced negative stereotypes and narratives about who relies on welfare benefits and why.
I spoke with Eubanks recently about her new book, and why she believes automated technologies are being used to rig the welfare system against the people who need it the most.
A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.