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Amnesty International reports technology contributing to human rights violations at borders

By Emma Burns | U. Auckland Law School, NZ

May 23, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Amnesty International said technology is contributing to the growing trend of human rights violations at borders in a research briefing released on Tuesday. The briefing documents systemic exploitation of new technologies by state and non-state actors and calls for more stringent regulation of development and deployment.

Invasive technologies violate numerous human rights, including the right to privacy, non-discrimination, equality, and the right to seek asylum. People crossing borders are particularly vulnerable as the briefing explains that migrants, asylum-seekers and refugees are already at high risk of exploitation and marginalization, and technologies such as biometric sensors and drone surveillance further harm their wellbeing. Private companies are responsible for many of the technologies deployed for the purposes of policing and identification, and profit from the data obtained. States also bear culpability. The briefing explains that “[s]tates often experiment with new technologies in the asylum or immigration process on those who, for a variety of underlying reasons, have the least ability to protect their rights, or seek redress when harmed.”

In a world where poverty, political oppression, and the climate crisis have seen us bear witness to the forcible displacement of 110 million people in 2023 alone, the briefing calls for urgent action. Amnesty International fellow Eliza Aspen said that “[s]tates don’t have an obligation to private companies, but they do have an obligation to ensure that state and non-state actors alike respect the human rights of people on the move.” Amnesty International’s recommendations for States include prohibition of AI-based emotion recognition tools, holding technology companies liable for human rights harms, and conducting human rights impact assessments and data protection impact assessments before and during the lifespan of deployed digital technologies.

As for the responsibility of private companies, Aspen said that “[c]ompanies that develop these technologies must incorporate safeguards into their use and conduct human rights due diligence and data impact assessments in advance of their deployment, not after the abuses have already been committed.” The briefing also recommends that providers justify the necessity and proportionality of the measure in comparison to alternatives, and pedestal the importance of consent to the taking of, and agency over, the use of personal data.

The briefing is but the second of four by Amnesty International USA on the correlation between technology and inequality. Earlier in May, Amnesty published a report documenting the harms flowing from use of the CBP One mobile app, on people seeking asylum in the United States, thus violating the US and Mexico’s international human rights and refugee law obligations. No doubt, the briefings will continue to serve as somber reminders for state and corporate action, and the dangers of invasive technology that continues to develop apace.



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