What kind of digital footprint does migration leave?
This data not only covers their identity, age, migration background and official documents (passport and visas) but also physical characteristics such as fingerprints. Stored in a vast number of opaque computer files, the data is cross-referenced and entered into algorithms to predict whether a migrant poses a “risk”. The notion of risk here is very broad, since it can range from fraudulent applications for refugee status to tracking people linked to terrorism or organised crime. This new type of barrier, referred to by states as smart borders, thus represents a new obstacle to migration which forces migrants to, sometimes drastically, change their tactics in order to gain entry into a country.
While countries of immigration use data for monitoring purposes, the same strategy is pursued in migrants’ countries of origin. Thanks to the development of multi-purpose cards, which serve as an all-in-one identity card, passport, driving licence and bank card, states can centralise their citizens’ biometric data and maintain a link, albeit with limited control, to people who have immigrated. The idea behind this initiative is, of course, to extend a country’s influence beyond its borders by including its migrants in an extensive network.
Lastly, data can also play a more positive role for migrants, in particular for the most disadvantaged among them. Under a number of projects managed by NGOs, members of displaced families can be helped to trace each other and maritime accidents in the Mediterranean are recorded and catalogued with a view to limiting drowning incidents during crossings that often turn out to be deadly.
> Records and checks: migrants and the digital border
The smart borders initiative set up by the European Union collects data on migrants in order to classify them preventatively as “individuals posing a risk”. This policy forces refugees to take more and more risks to avoid these increasingly intrusive checks.
> How states keep control of migrants
Anxious to extend their influence beyond their borders, some countries take advantage of the large diasporic communities set up by their nationals in order to establish a transnational network through databases.
> When databases are put to good use for migrants
When databases are not used to monitor migrants, they can also help them. How NGOs use them to secure migration routes or to reunite families separated by conflict.