Protect rights at automated borders

Around the world, digital technologies are transforming the nature of regional and national borders in radical ways. Booths that recognize people’s irises, faces and fingerprints are proliferating at airports, ports and other checkpoints. E-gates that compare identities against biometric records stored on chips in passports are supposedly faster, cheaper and more reliable than human border guards, and are presented as technical add-ons to the existing system. But, unmanaged, such technologies can threaten human rights and open up new forms of discrimination. 

Key Concepts

Our fundamental rights are at stake when we cross a border. Citizens in the EU and elsewhere need to be able to hold data processes accountable. Governments and the private sector need to make data collection and circulation more secure and transparent. Governments, lawyers, social scientists and technology suppliers should incorporate rights and values into the algorithms and systems used at borders. Privacy-enhancing technologies, policy and risk assessments and acceptability studies can all contribute.


Reduced awareness of travellers data protection rights

Travellers give away their data and biometrics to authorities with little awareness of data-protection rights. Processing of these sensitive data is often outsourced to private companies without proper oversight or audits for data security.


Physical border becoming irrelevant

When our personal data are collected and shared before we board an aeroplane, a border ceases to be a line that separates countries or administrative areas. It becomes a process of monitoring, control and automated decisions. The physical border is increasingly irrelevant because our rights, privileges, relations, characteristics and risk levels are checked all the time.

Little consideration for societal impact

The human rights, civil liberties and societal implications of securing borders through data processing, mining and matching are receiving little consideration. Our work suggests that automated border crossings mirror social stratification and inequalities elsewhere.

Difficult to translate rights into technology systems

The Schengen code also states that border guards shall “respect human dignity”, “shall not discriminate” and shall take measures that are “proportionate”. These qualities are difficult to translate into engineering or computing systems. Difficult, but not impossible: Eticas has been working with companies and institutions to ensure that data processes meet legal requirements and do not disadvantage or discriminate against certain groups. Such complex matters cannot be left to technology providers alone.