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Amnesty report highlights dangers of biometrics use in border control

Amnesty report highlights dangers of biometrics use in border control

Asylum and migration management systems across the world are seeing rapid adoption of digital technologies, including the collection of biometrics and facial recognition surveillance. In a new brief, Amnesty International analyzes the dangers these systems pose to human rights.

Governments in the European Union United States, the United Kingdom, and other countries have been deploying solutions such as digital alternatives to detention, border externalization technologies, data software, algorithmic decision-making systems – and biometrics.

“The creation of permanent biometric records of refugees and migrants poses particular human rights concerns,” explains the report titled Defending the Rights of Refugees and Migrants in the Digital Age.

Among the risks is the possibility of sharing asylum seekers’ and refugees’ data with authorities of countries from which they have fled which could result in more persecution for them or their families. Other dangers include the potential for surveillance, data breaches, restrictions to freedom of movement, discriminatory profiling and the marginalization of certain groups, according to the the UK-headquartered non-governmental organization.

The report highlights efforts from national and international agencies to build biometric databases to identify, track and cross-check migrants and refugees. This includes the European Union’s Eurodac biometric migration database which is set for expansion in 2024. Among other agencies working on collecting biometrics are the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) which have developed fingerprint and iris databases.

“There is also the broader danger of function creep, that is, the widening use of a technology or of data beyond its initial purpose, for example, data collection by humanitarian agencies for the purpose of registration and access to services being used for migration control,” the report notes.

Another, more extreme case of border control use of biometrics is the EU’s planned iBorderCtrl project which uses an AI lie-detector for facial and emotion recognition technologies during migrant interrogation. In 2018, the bloc announced it would fund the project and conduct pilots in Hungary, Greece and Latvia.

While human rights groups such as Amnesty have been warning of the dangers to migrants, global governments have continued to invest millions into biometrics, AI, surveillance and other technologies. Amnesty argues that many of these products have been linked to violations of human rights.

In both the United States and the UK, authorities are investing in electronic monitoring devices for migrants released from detention. The EU has earmarked some 34.9 billion euros for border control between 2021 and 2027, including building the upcoming European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS).

The organization has also highlighted the risks of biometric surveillance beyond migration monitoring. In May 2023, it published a report on the Israeli government’s use of experimental facial recognition known as Red Wolf. The report argues that the country is using invasive surveillance systems to get ever-tighter control over Palestinians.

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