In an Open Letter, eleven organisations criticise the creation of an infrastructure for predictive migration technologies. The tool, which is also supposed to anticipate “tensions”, is based on “artificial intelligence”. It could therefore contradict a forthcoming EU regulation.
To prevent or at least control unwanted migration, the European Union has various tools at its disposal to support its member states. Central to this is the border agency Frontex, which monitors the EU external borders with satellites, aircraft and drones. Frontex also conducts regular reconnaissance of the “pre-frontier area” far from European shores. With 30 African states, the agency has started its own network for this purpose, which also processes intelligence information.
Now the EU Commission wants to go one step further. With the help of data from various sources, a so-called EUMigraTool is to predict and control “migration flows” in Europe. The modelling and prediction is to be carried out using “deep learning”. In its first stage, theEUMigraTool is not intended to support the deterrence, but the reception, resettlement and relocation of refugees. Several civil society organisations and individuals nevertheless demand in an open letter that the project be stopped.
So far only forecasts for individual countries
The EU-funded EUMigraTool is part of the ITFLOWS project, in which various universities, institutes and non-governmental organisations have joined forces. The Commission is paying around €4.9 million for the EUMigraTool, with the University of Barcelona in the lead. The first results should be available by 31 August 2023.
One of the challenges of the project is the development of a solution that enables a “reliable prediction of migrants” throughout Europe. So far, these approaches only exist for specific countries, such as the United Kingdom and Sweden. There, different data sources and time frames are used for the prognosis.
Some of the early warning models could also predict which countries have the potential to trigger refugee flows. For this purpose, political event databases can be used, such as those used in Germany by the Bundeswehr and the Foreign Office. In a similar project, the EU Commission had funded research to integrate this type of open source intelligence (OSINT) into maritime surveillance.
However, according to ITFLOWS, such models do not take into account escapes triggered by environmental causes such as natural disasters or weather changes. The project therefore aims to bring together existing instruments and data platforms in the field of migration and asylum in Europe. Algorithms are also to evaluate non-personal information from social media.
Integration of data from “communication technology”
In a study published in February, the EU Commission’s research centre investigated in which cases and from which places migrants use Twitter, Flickr or Instagram. Even the mood of the people is to be analysed. Platforms such as Linkedin, where users disclose their origin and current whereabouts, also allow conclusions to be drawn.
Telephone providers can also detect when a conspicuously large number of mobile phones log on to the cell towers in another region during a certain period of time. Even if this data is anonymised, it still contains useful information about migration movements.
It is not clear from the ITFLOWS website which such data could be used in EUMigraTool. However, in addition to the vague formulation “evidence-based information and communication technologies”, “content from TV-news” is also mentioned.
The intended solution is first to facilitate the integration of immigrants. Then, ITFLOWS wants to use the tool to ” identify the potential risks of tensions between migrants and EU citizens”. Finally, the project will make recommendations to policy makers, governments and the EU institutions.
Organisations criticise securitisation of migration
An alliance of eleven non-governmental organisations, including Access Now, Bits of Freedom, European Digital Rights and Statewatch, last week strongly criticised the EUMigraTool. In an open letter, the organisations, together with individuals, call for the abandonment of any technology that could hinder people on the run. Predictive technologies run the risk of being misused to securitise and criminalise migration.
Another accusation is that ITFLOWS creates an infrastructure for predictive migration technologies. However, the EUMigraTool does not have any security measures to prevent authorities and EU agencies from using the prediction tool for border management and security purposes.
Moreover, predictive analysis tools are currently the subject of inter-institutional negotiations within the framework of the EU law proposed by the Commission on the use of “artificial intelligence”. As things stand, applications for border surveillance and control are not allowed in this. The signatories of the Open Letter therefore call on the ITFlows project to “refrain from developing a system that should be prohibited under the upcoming Regulation”.
Migration and Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson visits a border police coordination centre in the Canary Islands (EU Commission).