Crossing borders in North America and Europe: 2012 Banting Postdoctoral Fellowship Highlights

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Milena Stanoeva Federation for the Humanities and Social Sciences

Over the past decade, border crossing has become a national security concern of growing importance, with states increasingly turning to surveillance technologies, databases and smart IDs to control migration flows. Criticism about the increased securitization of borders is generally levelled at states, which, according to 2012 Banting Postdoctoral Fellow Martin Geiger, ignores a major player in migration management – industry.

Geiger will be carrying out his research project, titled “Smart new border world: Information technologies and security industries in the management of human cross-border mobility in North America and Europe,” at Carleton University, where he was a visiting scholar last year. Geiger was born in Germany and has worked and done research in many countries, including Spain, Italy, Romania, Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina, Ukraine and Morocco. His fieldwork at different sites alongside the European Union’s external border allowed him to observe the processes of migration control and management in the EU and its Eastern and Southern neighbourhood, where the EU offloads a lot of its restrictive migration policies.

Geiger says that states are turning to tech industries for ways to separate “wanted” and “unwanted” mobility flows using information technologies. While new technologies, like biometric passports, are promoted as making border crossing easier and more efficient, they also create detailed, easy to track trails of information on individuals. These trails, stored in databases, make it much easier for states to share information and cooperate in controlling and restricting migration. For example, Canada can better monitor if an individual has left the country if it can receive confirmation that he or she has entered another country.

This marriage between states and industry has important implications for sovereignty and citizenship. While these new technologies can be invasive of citizens’ privacy, participation in their adoption is rewarded with special quick access lines at borders. Some countries are even considering making birth and marriage certificates biometric.

Market competition also affects the ways in which information technologies are used in migration management. Tech companies feel the need to present their products as having multiple uses to entice governments to invest in them. For example, drones are now not only used in combat, but also to patrol and monitor borders.

Geiger argues that we need to better understand how these technologies are affecting people and to what extent they are effective at increasing security and making border crossing more efficient, so that we, as a society, can make informed decisions about them.

Geiger plans on interviewing policy-makers, businesspeople and experts on immigration in order to explore their experiences with smart border technologies. He is also considering facilitating round-table discussions between different stakeholders in migration management. He hopes that his research will bring the complexity of migration management to light and create dialogue around the role that industry and new technologies play in it.


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