The UN Human Rights Office released a report Monday that assessed the impact of digital border technologies on human rights, finding that border surveillance technology and decision algorithms may violate the human rights of migrants. While the report acknowledged that digital technologies aid states in achieving security objectives, it also alleged that digital technologies result in the manifestation and exacerbation of human rights issues.
The report stated that digital technologies, such as video surveillance systems and surveillance towers, employed by a multitude of states at land and sea borders may risk human rights as they prevent border crossings instead of providing migrants and potential asylum seekers with support. For example, digital technologies may subject migrants to compounded human rights risks since migrants may avoid routes with surveillance systems because they fear detection.
In addition, the report asserted that using algorithmic risk assessments to decide whether migrants should be detained could lead to gender, race, or ethnicity discrimination since algorithm-weighed data could potentially give rise to discrimination. This may lead to biases if human officers refer to the findings of algorithmic risk assessments. The UN Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families also noted that surveillance technologies may accentuate the stigmatization of migrants while restricting the freedom of migrants’ movements.
In order to protect human rights, the report recommends states implement a human rights-based approach to migration. It suggests that states should conduct and publish a human rights impact evaluation on how their proposed digital border technologies comply with human rights obligations and abstain from employing digital border technologies that are detrimental to the protection of human rights.
This is not the first time the UN has expressed concerns about the use of digital technologies. In March, Fionnuala Aoláin, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in Counter-Terrorism, wrote that digital technologies that tackle terrorism exacerbate human rights violations globally. Also this year, the UN Human Rights Office stated that surveillance technologies employed in Southeast Asia have threatened civic space by being subject to online abuse.