On Digital Passageways and Borders

Speaker: Mark Latonero & Paula Kift
Date recorded: May 12, 2016
Mark Latonero and Paula Kift discuss how a new digital infrastructure 1) facilitates and constrains the flow of data and people, 2) conceals and constructs identity and status, and 3) affects refugees’ fundamental rights to privacy.

Mark Latonero and Paula Kift on digital passageways and borders in the movement of refugees. Numerous media reports have highlighted that refugees now increasingly rely on digital devices such as smartphones in order to traverse their perilous routes, contact lost family members, or find safe places before dark. But claims that “a smartphone” may be “the most important” tool for Syrian refugees misses the bigger picture. Phones, social media, mobile apps, online maps, instant messaging, translation websites, wire money transfers, cell phone charging stations, and Wi-Fi hotspots have all created a new digital infrastructure for global movement. This infrastructure is as critical to refugees today as roads or railways. But digital infrastructures for movement can just as easily be turned into infrastructures for control by governments, corporations, and even criminals. Indeed, governments are increasingly experimenting with similar digital technologies to reinforce their border controls—to collect, process, and instrumentalize data in order to interfere with the movement of “undesirable” migrants.

Mark and Paula will explore these tensions and discuss how this new digital infrastructure 1) facilitates and constrains the flow of data and people, 2) conceals and constructs identity and status, and 3) affects refugees’ fundamental rights to privacy, data protection, and asylum.