Hermes-900The Rise of the Machines

Machines are taking over from humans in the effort to secure national and supra-national borders. Case in point: the Europe Union recently signed a 100M Euro contract for new drones to augment its existing fleet engaged in migration surveillance in the Mediterranean Sea, a job once held by national coast guards. Fitted with infrared sensors, radar, and high-resolution cameras, the drones detect boats and ships and track them in real time. Drones can get closer and gather more detailed information faster than satellites. Maritime law requires ships at sea provide help to other ships, or people, in distress. Since drones are unmanned aircraft, not ships, the EU is under no legal requirement to render assistance. Thereby raising barriers and increasing risks for migrants and smugglers alike.

Drones are one element of digitally enabled ‘Smart Borders’. Technologies like artificial intelligence identify and track migrants, both in destination countries, as well as home countries if they are repatriated. Refugees lucky enough to survive a sea crossing can expect to have their biometric data catalogued when they land. Similarly, economic migrants must give up biometric and other data when legally entering many countries.

Smart Borders and Discrimination

The Guardian recently reported on UN claims that digital technologies are not only unfair, but regularly violate human rights. The UN report (A-75-590-AUV) goes on to say that until migration surveillance technologies are appropriately governed and data securely managed, the use of such technologies should be banned.

If surveillance technologies were reliable and secure, the management of data might be less controversial. Unfortunately, according to Time magazine, algorithms for facial recognition systems can recognize light-skinned males much more accurately than women or dark-skinned people. This kind of inaccuracy and bias can lead to mistaken identities and mismanagement. Moreover, biometric data is not in the hands of the individual. Nor is there transparency around who has access to it, or how it is managed.

Virtual State: Enabling Personal Agency

Empowering individuals with the ability to prove their identity via digital documents and biometrics utilizing blockchain technologies would provide transparency at every transactional stage. The individual could opt in or out at any time. Choices have consequences, but at least requests would be explicit, and a personal identity ledger auditable.


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