The increasing use of digital technologies in border governance has raised concerns about the protection of human rights for migrants and refugees. International borders have become securitized and militarized, with physical infrastructures and digital technologies being employed to prevent migration. Biometric technologies such as fingerprint, iris, and facial recognition scanners are routinely used at border crossings. Some states have even tested lie detectors, robodogs, and GPS tagging as part of their border governance infrastructure.
The concept of borders and border governance has expanded beyond physical boundaries. Internalization or ‘insourcing’ involves the detection, detention, and deportation of individuals within the interior. Externalization or ‘outsourcing’ includes remotely collecting biometric data and monitoring social media to gather information on individuals before they physically cross the borders. These practices raise risks of scrutiny, profiling, risk categorization, and surveillance for migrants and refugees, even before they leave their home countries.
New and emerging digital technologies, such as algorithmic risk assessments, are being incorporated into border governance processes alongside large-scale data collection and interoperable databases. However, the use of these digital technologies raises concerns about due process and the protection of human rights. Depending on the type of technology, its purpose, the context of its deployment, and the legal framework in place, various human rights can be at risk, including privacy, freedom of movement, the right to claim asylum, and even the right to life.
While technological advancements have the potential to enhance human rights monitoring and address violations and abuses at borders, research shows that the use of digital technologies can also negatively impact human rights and place people on the move in vulnerable situations. Particularly concerning are the power differentials that are already inherent throughout migration processes. Factors such as race, ethnicity, gender identity, disability, nationality, migration status, and other vulnerabilities further exacerbate these risks.
There is a lack of dedicated regulatory frameworks at the national, regional, and international level for the use of digital technologies in border contexts. Efforts states and private actors to uphold their human rights obligations and responsibilities in the development, deployment, and oversight of these technologies have been inadequate. Decision-making processes regarding the use of new and emerging digital technologies lack transparency, and there is a lack of accountability mechanisms and access to justice for individuals and groups whose rights have been violated.
Further research is needed to understand the full extent of digital technologies in border governance and their potential impacts on human rights. Robust legal and policy frameworks are essential to address the existing gaps in human rights protection and prevent future harm. Only through comprehensive and responsible use of digital technologies can the rights and dignity of migrants and refugees be upheld at borders.
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