Even as the Malaysian airliner MH370 remains missing, its disappearance has unwittingly uncovered the vast multi-city surveillance system hovering over us whenever we fly.
It starts when we enter the immigration zone and our passports are checked against a database. The failure to check Interpol’s passport database—an international policing program—allowed two passengers to board the plane on stolen passports.
During the flight, the plane was then tracked not only by Malaysia, but also British satellite operator Inmarsat. Thailand’s military radar also detected it. However, this was revealed much later, showing how reluctant countries are to share defensive information for fear of compromising a nation’s technological powers (or lack of).
In the search for debris, several countries offered their satellite images—China, France, Thailand, Japan—again unmasking the constellation of eyes above our cities.
How do we understand privacy as well as national boundaries with the existence of such surveillance technology today? The search for the missing plane shows how it takes one tiny disruption in the system to expose the porousness of borders between countries.
Unlike the flight’s effortless and stealth path across various territories, the search for it has been confounded with complex protocols between nations on deciding which country will lead the search and how it will be conducted. The anxiety amongst nations in this search for MH370 perhaps confirms how open cities really are today.
Written for Anooradha Iyer Siddiqi’s Cultural Theory class at D-Crit in response to “Introduction: Enacting Modernity” by AbdouMaliq Simone