"Technologies are never neutral"
An interview with researcher Petra Molnar, speaker at the Smart Prisons Conference of the Disruption Network Lab in March 2023. She is an internationally recognized expert on migration and technology. She talks about how AI is used as a tool to survey migrants and what needs to be done to stop human rights violations.
What are Migration Technologies and what role do they play for the European Border Control/Regime? You mentioned in this context the Ecosystem of Migration Management Technologies – can you explain that to us?
Border and migration technologies can impact a person at every point in their journey. Before you even cross a border, you may be subject to predictive analytics used in humanitarian settings or biometric data collection. At the border, you can see drone surveillance, sound-cannons, and thermal cameras. If you are in a European refugee camp, you will interact with algorithmic motion detection software, various surveillance, and biometrics, and even if you have the chance to claim asylum, you may be subject to projects like voice printing technologies and the scraping of your social media records.
Borders themselves are also shifting and changing, as surveillance and new technologies are expanding our understanding of the European border beyond its physical limits, creating a surveillance dragnet as far as north and Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East. These experimental and high-risk technologies occur in an environment where technological solutions are presented as a viable solution to complex social issues, creating the perfect ecosystem for a lucrative ecosystem giving rise to a multi-billion euro border industrial complex.
What is the human rights impact of the usage of Artificial Intelligence and automated technologies on migration control?
Technologies are never neutral – they replicate existing biases and power differentials in our society and create new risks. When they are used in spaces like borders and migration applications which are simultaneously high-risk while being very opaque and discretionary, a vast array of human rights violations can occur. We know that facial recognition and algorithmic decision-making can discriminate against people of color, women, and people who are differently abled. Indiscriminate data sharing of people’s sensitive personal information with law enforcement or even repressive government they are trying to flee is not only dangerous but also infringes on people’s right to privacy. Using surveillance technologies at land and sea borders and preventing people from reaching European territory not only contravenes international refugee law but can also impact people’s right to life, liberty, and security of the person. These are just some of the many human rights risks of migration control technologies yet these projects continue to be largely unregulated and non-transparent.