Cornell University
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Karen Levy, January 21st, 2015

Wednesday, January 21, 2015 - 4:00pm to 5:00pm
Athreya Conference Room (Rm 310)

Please join us for the Information Science Colloquium with guest, Karen Levy. Karen Levy is a postdoctoral fellow at New York University's Department of Media, Culture, and Communication and the NYU School of Law's Information Law Institute. She researches how law and technology interact to regulate social life, with particular focus on social aspects of surveillance and data collection. Karen holds a Ph.D. in Sociology from Princeton University and a J.D. from Indiana University Maurer School of Law.

Title:“The Automation of Compliance: Techno-Legal Regulation in the U.S. Trucking Industry”

Abstract: Rules of all types are increasingly enforced by digital mechanisms that aim to enforce rules more “perfectly” than analog methods can. My research explores the social, legal, and cultural contexts of these enforcement regimes, which often rely on fine-grained data collection to create new sites of accountability. My dissertation examines how electronic monitoring systems in the U.S. trucking industry are used to compel truckers’ compliance with legal and organizational rules. For decades, truckers have kept track of their work time using easily falsified paper logbooks, and performed their work without too much regard for legal worktime limits. But new regulations will require truckers’ time to be monitored by digital systems, hard-wired into the trucks themselves, which remove much of the flexibility on which truckers have historically relied.

In this talk, I focus on how digital monitoring reshapes truckers’ social relations in two spheres. First, I examine how the systems reshape organizational information flows in trucking firms. Electronic monitoring systems accrue real-time aggregated data in remote dispatchers, allowing firms to construct alternative narratives to truckers’ accounts of local and biophysical conditions. Data are then reembedded in drivers’ social networks—fleets and even families—as firms attach economic incentives to them to create new performance pressures. These dynamics facilitate firms’ control over truckers’ work in new ways. I then consider challenges created by human/machine hybridity in inspection interactions, in which law enforcement officers seek to verify truckers’ time logs. Digital monitors destabilize traditional power dynamics by making officers’ technical troubles newly visible to truckers, undermining their authority. Truckers exploit officers’ anxiety by misleadingly signaling the presence of monitors (through a process of “decoy compliance”) in hopes of avoiding inspection. These interactions demonstrate how human discretion and the performance of authority remain fundamental to enforcement regimes, even when they rely in part on digital technology.