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Study argues biometrics can undermine human rights in digital border governance

Study argues biometrics can undermine human rights in digital border governance

A recent study conducted in a collaboration between the University of Essex and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has concluded that the inappropriate or excessive use of new and emerging digital technologies such as biometrics can have a negative toll on the exercise of migrants’ rights.

Per the study, the use of such technologies could have an undesirable effect on human rights by placing migrants in situations that predispose them to either exploitation or other forms of abuses. Such infringements could also touch on their rights to freedom of expression, association and religion, rights to education, and even the right to housing and health, the report notes.

The publication, titled “Digital border governance: a human rights-based approach,” observes that states and international organizations are increasingly employing biometric technologies such as fingerprint, iris and facial recognition for border management purposes, with some also reportedly testing new systems such as lie detectors, robodogs, and GPS tagging.

These and many other practices, the researchers say, give rise to risks that migrants and refugees are subjected to including privacy violations, discrimination and unjustified penalization.

The study agrees that while the use of cutting-edge technologies can indeed speed up and enhance the way border management happens these days, it is important to be mindful of and take the necessary precautions against any consequences that may arise there from.

It adds that there is great need to determine the human rights consequences of digital border technology deployments through practices such as algorithmic risk assessments and proper privacy and security controls for widescale biographic and biometric data collection.

The study lays emphasis on plugging the gaps which previous research has exposed in terms of the “lack of a dedicated regulatory framework at the national, regional, and international level for the use of new and emerging digital technologies generally, and in border contexts specifically.”

The research highlights the potential effects of some digital border governance technologies on human rights, possible human rights protection gaps and the importance of putting in place robust legal and policy frameworks to close those gaps.

The study concludes with practical recommendations on how to close protection gaps at digital borders and how to ensure minimum human rights safeguards for the introduction, monitoring and oversight of digital border technologies. These include the establishment of more robust complaints-handling bodies and processes, but also a review of whether some technologies at borders, like polygraphs and remote biometrics, are incompatible with human rights.

This report comes at a time when the European Union is already facing accusations of migrants’ right violations with the implementation of its  “techno-borders” digital border policy.

Another report also noted lately that biometric ID cards were being used as a tool for migrant instrumentalization in Nigeria.

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