Racism and “Smart Borders”

As many of us had our attention focused on the use of biometric surveillance technologies in managing the COVID-19 pandemic, in a new UN report prof. E. Tendayi Achiume forcefully puts the spotlight on the racial and discriminatory dimension of biometric surveillance technology in border enforcement.

The UN working with Palantir, EU’s Frontex using drones, iris scans and even lie detectors; surveillance technologies are increasingly part of the ‘day to day business’ of border and migration enforcement. Prof. Achiume, as the UN Special Rapporteur, strongly calls attention to the racism in these technologies, countering the dominant narrative of these technologies as a more “humane” and “objective” form of border control.

Crucially, Achiume calls for a moratorium on the use of digital surveillance technologies in border enforcement due to their use “to advance the xenophobic and racially discriminatory ideologies”. The report sees this racism as an effect of “widespread perceptions of refugees and migrants as per se threats to national security [or] as a result of the pursuit of bureaucratic and humanitarian efficiency without the necessary human rights safeguards”. Additionally, researcher Petra Molnar emphasizes that the uniquely vulnerable position created in the immigration and border context (and lack of societal attention) allows for the overwhelmingly black and brown migrants to function as a testing ground for these surveillance technologies.

Read more about the Special Rapporteur prof. E. Tendayi Achiume’s work here and her previous report on racial discrimination and emerging digital technologies here. See the EDRi report by Petra Molnar on migrants as a testing ground for technology here.

See: UN warns of impact of smart borders on refugees: ‘Data collection isn’t apolitical’ at The Guardian.

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