Virginia Eubanks

Virginia Eubanks is the author of Digital Dead End: Fighting for Social Justice in the Information Age and co-editor with Alethia Jones and Barbara Smith of Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around: Forty Years of Movement Building with Barbara Smith. She teaches in the Department of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies at the University at Albany, SUNY, and is a fellow at the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

Recent Articles

Memo to Next V.A. Chief: How Technology Allowed Corruption to Flourish, Hurting Veterans

President Obama has tapped Robert A. McDonald to run the embattled Department of Veterans Affairs. Here's what he'll need to understand about the limits of the V.A.'s vaunted electronic records program.

AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File
Corruption has been a part of American government since its inception. In principle, computers and electronic record-keeping promise greater transparency and honesty. E-government tools are now part of the most central tasks of citizenship, including voting, registering births and deaths, and paying taxes. Successful examples range from the utterly mundane: E-ZPass provides more effective traffic control, simpler toll payment for drivers, and collects real-time data about the use of public infrastructure—to the absolutely extraordinary: a telecenter in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable National Park protects mountain gorillas, monitors human-to-gorilla disease transmission, and creates local economic growth. If well-designed and implemented, these tools can increase government efficiency, transparency, and accountability, facilitate agency communication, improve service quality, and promote public participation. Yet digital government is only as honest as the people who design...

How Big Data Could Undo Our Civil-Rights Laws

iStockPhoto Big Data will eradicate extreme world poverty by 2028, according to Bono , front man for the band U2. But it also allows unscrupulous marketers and financial institutions to prey on the poor . Big Data, collected from the neonatal monitors of premature babies , can detect subtle warning signs of infection, allowing doctors to intervene earlier and save lives. But it can also help a big-box store identify a pregnant teenager —and carelessly inform her parents by sending coupons for baby items to her home. News-mining algorithms might have been able to predict the Arab Spring . But Big Data was certainly used to spy on American Muslims when the New York City Police Department collected license plate numbers of cars parked near mosques, and aimed surveillance cameras at Arab-American community and religious institutions. Until recently, debate about the role of metadata and algorithms in American politics focused narrowly on consumer privacy protections and Edward...

How Big Banks Are Cashing In On Food Stamps

AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli
AP Images/Rich Pedroncelli The Agricultural Act of 2014 , signed into law by President Obama last Friday, includes $8 billion in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) over the next decade. One way the bill proposes to accomplish these savings is by reducing food stamp fraud. When the new farm bill is enacted, many of America’s hardest working families will experience cuts in services and have trouble putting food on their family’s table. But there will be major gains for an industry that most Americans might not expect: banking. Banks reap hefty profits helping governments make payments to individuals, business that only got better when agencies switch from making payments on paper—checks and vouchers—to electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards. EBT cards look and work like debit cards, and by 2002, had entirely replaced the stamp booklets that gave the food stamp program its name. SNAP is the most well-known program delivered via EBT,...

Want to Predict the Future of Surveillance? Ask Poor Communities.

AP Images/Stephen Chernin
Since Edward Snowden started disclosing millions of classified NSA documents in June, terms like metadata, software backdoors, and cybervulnerability have appeared regularly in headlines and sound bites. Many Americans were astonished when these stories broke. In blogs, comment sections, and op-ed pages, they expressed disbelief and outrage. But I wasn’t surprised. A decade ago, I sat talking to a young mother on welfare about her experiences with technology. When our conversation turned to Electronic Benefit Transfer cards (EBT), Dorothy* said, “They’re great. Except [Social Services] uses them as a tracking device.” I must have looked shocked, because she explained that her caseworker routinely looked at her EBT purchase records. Poor women are the test subjects for surveillance technology, Dorothy told me ruefully, and you should pay attention to what happens to us. You’re next. Poor and working-class Americans already live in the surveillance future...