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Side Event: Covid-19 and the Expansion of the Surveillance Industry - The Private Sectors Growing Impact on Vulnerable Communities and Border Policing

An event with E. Tendayi Achiume, Behrouz Boochani, Jacinta Gonzalez and Catriona Wallace
UCLA School of Law, Mijente and

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About this event

BACKGROUND

Accelerated by rising ethno-nationalism, refugees and migrants are increasingly viewed through a national security rather than a human rights-based lens. Growing government spending on border and immigration control has seen the emergence of a lucrative industry for companies involved in detention, deportation and surveillance.

Emerging technologies, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), such as drones that autonomously patrol borders, biometrics (such as fingerprints and iris-scans), and the use of phone and social media tracking, are reshaping border policing.

With the advent of COVID-19 and the deployment of tech-enabled mass surveillance for public health, new large-scale public-private partnerships have been established that enable technology companies to consolidate power further and amass biometric and other data.

There is a risk of data being repurposed for border policing, and health status being irretrievably embedded within mobility infrastructure, with significant consequences for vulnerable populations (particularly people seeking asylum, undocumented migrants, informal workers), and for all of society.

SESSION DESCRIPTION

Emerging technologies, powered by artificial intelligence (AI), such as drones that autonomously patrol borders, biometrics (such as fingerprints and iris-scans), and the use of phone and social media tracking, are reshaping border policing.

With the advent of COVID-19 and the deployment of tech-enabled mass surveillance for public health, new lucrative large-scale public-private partnerships have been established that enable companies to amass biometric and other data. There is a risk of data being repurposed for border policing, and health status being irretrievably embedded within mobility infrastructure, with significant consequences for vulnerable populations (particularly people seeking asylum, undocumented migrants, informal workers).

This session brings together various perspectives to understand the existing and future human rights abuses at borders resulting from surveillance technologies, and the role and responsibility of business in this context.

SESSION OBJECTIVES

  • Demonstrate the interlinked relationship between covid, human rights, and tech and articulate the role and responsibility of business. 

  • Introduce strategies for leaders in the business and investment community who want to take action on racialised surveillance.

  • Start building a multi-stakeholder community of allies in protecting vulnerable people who are going to be targeted by surveillance.

  • Begin to set expectations of ‘responsible business’ in this area so that it does not become a ‘human rights free zone’.

KEY QUESTIONS

  • What are the tools and technologies of surveillance that are currently being deployed at borders? How do these technologies work? What companies are implicated?

  • What are the major developments you have observed in the surveillance industry due to COVID-19?

  • Given that data is already being used to target refugees and migrants for deportation, what will the further expansion of tracking and surveillance mean for migrants and refugees en route (across the Mediterranean, Sub Saharan African, North African, Middle Eastern and Asia), caught between the need to flee conflicts and poverty, dangerous open sea waters, and higher risk of COVID-19 transmission in absence of basic health and hygiene conditions?

  • Some experts have argued that surveillance technologies and techniques are often tested on marginalised groups, such as refugees and people seeking asylum, are then rolled out more broadly into society. Is this something you have observed?

  • What are the human rights implications of these technologies right now, and into the future?

  • Is there instances where biometric data collection and other surveillance technologies could be helpful, rather than harmful to refugees and people seeking asylum?

  • What are the roles of different stakeholders in setting expectation of ‘responsible business’ in this context?

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