Biometric Tech Used to Return African Migrants from EU - Identity Review - Identity Review | Global Tech Think Tank

A report released by Privacy International, a UK-based charity that promotes data privacy rights around the world, showed that an EU development fund has helped finance biometric technology systems in Senegal and the Ivory Coast—likely to identify undocumented citizens in Europe and aid their return.

In response, Privacy International drafted a letter to European commissioners to discontinue these development funds, “[ensuring] they are not providing the tools of repression to governments around the world.” Eleven other NGOs showed their support by signing the letter.

A Familiar Plight

Despite both Ivory Coast and Senegal being notable exporters of raw goods—cacao with the former and petroleum with the latter—nearly half of the populations of each country live in poverty. In fact, among the 155,000 migrants who reached Europe between November and January of 2017, a majority came from West Africa. The onslaught of migrants, which reached particular heights in the summer of 2015, coupled with the rise of right-wing leadership that was more than willing to tout anti-migrant rhetoric, prompted the EU to recant on their open-door policy and intervene. In 2016, the EU set forth plans to return migrants to their countries of origin and, most importantly, address the causes of this migration.

Their foremost solution to the illegal migrant issue? Invest in Africa to keep them there.

The Happening

EUTF for Africa, otherwise known as EU Trust Fund for Stability and Addressing Root Causes of Irregular Migration and Displaced Persons in Africa, has already bankrolled around $70.1 million (60 million euros) to two European firms specializing in biometric technology—Civipol, a French government-affiliated consulting firm, and ENABEL, a Belgian development agency. Little is known of the exact kind of biometric identification technologies EUTF’s funding is going toward.

The report goes on to highlight how an EU training agency is also teaching amatuer hacking tactics in other affected countries, like Algeria and Bosnia and Herzegovina, advising authorities on how to create fake social media profiles to research users.

The Controversy

One of the central issues in organizing the return of a migrant abroad is the lack of a proper ID or the possession of a fraudulent ID. A EUTF document states that the funds will go toward modernizing national registry systems using biometric variables like fingerprints, facial and iris scans, alongside personal information like names and dates of birth. This way, not only will the registry systems function better at home, but, according to the report and other civil rights advocates, also work to track their citizens abroad.

Biometrics can also facilitate discrimination or not operate accurately, the report warns. No less, biometrics has become an essential part of law enforcement pursuits. Interpol has already worked with both Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso to gather biometric data in an attempt to better identify links with terrorism.


Olivia Baker is a Tech Innovation Fellow at Identity Review from Columbia University, where she writes on tech policy and national digital identity technologies.

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