Special series: Surveillance tech keeps tabs on world's migrants

An illustration photo shows - from left to right - a woman holding a national identity card, an eye on a phone screen, a man in a mask and a life vest, and a surveillance tower on a background of newspaper clippings and barbed wire. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nura Ali

An illustration photo shows a woman holding a national identity card, an eye on a phone screen, a man in a mask and a life vest, and a surveillance tower on a background of newspaper clippings and barbed wire. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Nura Ali

What’s the context?

From digital IDs to AI-based facial recognition cameras, tracking tools threaten migrants' basic freedoms, rights experts say

More people than ever before are living far from home after being uprooted by war, violence, persecution and other crises, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) said earlier this year as millions of Ukrainians fled Russia's invasion.

As the number of forcibly displaced people exceeds 100 million for the first time, governments are using an array of high-tech tools to monitor the movements of refugees and migrants at borders and within their countries, often using them to control access to public services, too.

In total, some 281 million people are now living outside their countries of birth, according to the U.N. migration agency (IOM).

But from digital identity cards and artificial intelligence-based facial recognition cameras, to drones and surveillance towers, the technology being used to track people on the move poses an unprecedented threat to their basic freedoms, rights experts say.

Sometimes their consequences can be deadly by forcing some migrants to take greater risks in order to avoid detection, for example along the perilous U.S.-Mexico border.

"Border technologies have profound impacts on people's human rights and civil liberties," said Petra Molnar, associate director at Refugee Law Lab, a research centre.

"Many automated technologies are also highly discriminatory, making problematic inferences about people's behaviour based on biased data sets," she told Context.

Over the coming weeks, we examine the impact of surveillance technology deployed to track migrants and refugees in locations around the world, from the U.S.-Mexico border to Myanmar to Britain and beyond.

UK: Migrants in UK face 'degrading' surveillance ankle tags

Myanmar: 'They tried to erase us': Rohingya IDs deny citizenship

U.S./Mexico: Surveillance tech makes U.S.-Mexico border even deadlier

In Jordan, refugees scan irises to collect aid. But is it ethical?


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Facial recognition
Digital IDs
Migration
Tech and inequality
Tech regulation
Smart cities

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