• Johanne Rübner Hansen
4. term, Global Refugee Studies, Master (Master Programme)
Following the 2015-16 ‘refugee and migration crisis’, as declared by the European Union,
there has been an increasing interest in collecting, storing and analysing personal biometric
data from irregular migrants and asylum seekers. The thesis at hand investigates three
proposals to recast the regulations of respectively the Schengen Information System, Eurodac
and the Visa Information System. Building on the theoretical lenses of governmentality,
biopower, the relation between knowledge and power as well as studies on surveillance and
social sorting, the thesis consists of an in-depth analysis of what the European Commission
frames as problems in the proposals, whether there are elements that are left silenced, and
what effects and potential risks these proposals will expose irregular migrants and asylum
seekers to, if they are ratified. With this critical policy analysis and discussions of relevant
implications, this thesis contributes to the academic field of science and technologies studies
as well as border and migration studies.
It is found, that identification is a high priority for the European Commission for two
principal reasons. First of all, because the political field of irregular migration and asylum
seekers is intertwined with security issues, making it an issue that needs quick and drastic
responses. Secondly, as several member states did not manage to register all those arriving at
the European Union’s external borders throughout the ‘crisis’ some remained unregistered
and hence invisible to authorities and knowledge producers. This resulted in a situation with
less control over who was staying and moving inside the European Union. A solution to the
‘crisis’, set forth by the European Commission, was to recast the purposes and functions of
the digital and biometric borders, which the three large-scale information systems constitute.
The promise was that applying biometric technologies would ensure a correct and exact
identification of all irregular migrants and asylum seekers entering the European Union, as it
was framed to be a neutral and objective technology, capturing unique personal features, such
as fingerprints, palm prints, facial image and DNA. Relying and deploying biometric
technologies and features would reinforce EUs managerial abilities to govern and direct
future legislations on those registered. Additionally, it would create possibilities to socially
sort, surveil and return those registered who are perceived to be anti-citizens/illegal/irregular.
Despite the leading and powerful position the European Commission has and its convincing
and powerful way of presenting solutions to its framed problems, it is also clarified
throughout the thesis that there are a multitude of issues regarding the EUs reliance and
deployment of biometric technologies, that are not mentioned in the proposals. These are
important to shed light upon in order to understand the social and societal impacts the
regulations have, and are therefore analysed and discussed. The first concerns the fact that
changing the purposes and functions of the regulations is not without consequences for
irregular migrants and asylum seekers. This can leave them in vulnerable situations as it
becomes complex to comprehend what the personal data is used for, who can access it and
for how long it can be stored. The second concerns technological limitations and errors that
biometric technologies are prone to, and which contradict the promises made in the
proposals, such as the fact that the technologies are only capable of giving matches based on
probability, and that ensuring good data quality is difficult. The lack of acknowledgement of
these can put people at risk of experiencing false matches and being met with mistrust.
Another limitation found concerns that the technologies are a priori calibrated to a certain
degree of whiteness, which occludes the registration of non-white people. These concerns are
not some that the European Commission states that they are aware of, even though it creates
possibilities to divide and discriminate between those who are depicted as dangerous/safe.
Lastly, it is examined that template ages over time and that the larger the databases, the
higher the risks of false matches are examined. These speak against the Commissions
suggestions of making the systems interoperational, extending the data retention period and
lowering the age of registration. In sum the thesis concludes that the European Commission
silence all of these technological limitations, even though they have huge implications for
those registered, as they will be more exposed to discriminating practices, such as profiling
and social sorting, surveillance, tracking, false matches, higher return rates and occlusion of
being registered at all.

Keywords: European Commission, databases, biometrics, irregular migration, governance,
social sorting, surveillance
Publication date31 May 2019
Number of pages77
ID: 304661331