Call for submissions: Thematic report on Race, Borders, and Digital Technologies

For her 2020 thematic report to the General Assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance will examine how digital technologies deployed in the context of border enforcement and administration reproduce, reinforce, and compound racial discrimination. Her report will discuss risks of racial discrimination arising from use of existent and emerging digital technologies in service of border enforcement and administration policies. Furthermore, the report will articulate how these technologies deny, undermine, or otherwise violate human rights, especially the human rights of migrants, refugees, stateless people, non-citizens, and individuals or groups who are or who are perceived to be foreign.

To inform her report, the Special Rapporteur wishes to receive input from relevant stakeholders, including national and local governments, human rights institutions and equality bodies, national and international civil society organizations, inter-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and entities, academics, and corporations. She is particularly eager to hear from activists, advocates, and other individuals possessing first-hand expertise with border enforcement and administration technologies.

The Special Rapporteur will receive electronic submissions at racism@ohchr.org. The deadline for submissions is 15 May 2020. Please indicate whether we can publish all or part of your submission on the website of the Special Rapporteur. 

We accept submissions in all the UN official languages, but encourage English translations because that is the working language of the Special Rapporteur. For those who are only able to make submissions in languages other than the UN official languages, we welcome those submissions, and will do our best to translate them. If we are ultimately unable to translate them, we will notify the authors of the submission.

Please state whether you would like us to keep your submission confidential. If you are submitting in languages other than English, kindly indicate in English (if you can) whether you would like us to keep your submission confidential.

Additional guidance and information on the call for submissions is available below.

Additional Background, Guidance, and Information on the Call for Submissions

Background 

The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination prohibits governments from using any distinction, exclusion, restriction or preference based on race, color, descent, or national and ethnic origin that has the purpose or effect of nullifying or impairing human rights and fundamental freedoms. The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has affirmed that migrants should be protected against any form of racial discrimination, including at border sites. The UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance’s 2018 report to the Human Rights Council further clarifies human rights law provisions applicable to cases of racial discrimination in the context of immigration, citizenship, and nationality laws.

Although impermissible to discriminate on the basis of race, academic researchers, local communities, non-governmental organizations, and human rights experts have and continue to document how technologies deployed in service of  border enforcement and administration exact discrimination on the basis of race. These groups have identified discrimination arising from use of biometrics, big data analytics, algorithms,  automated decision-making tools, machine-learning software, predictive analytics, and other forms of artificial intelligence.

Furthermore, these groups have identified numerous potential human rights law obligations, including: failure to respect the right to informed consent and refusal; subjecting migrants, refugees, noncitizens, and stateless persons to technological experimentation, algorithmic bias, and surveillance; due process violations resulting from automated decision-making; techno-militarization of borders; and unequal access to technology for populations who are or are perceived to be foreign. 

Purpose of the Report 

The report of the Special Rapporteur will map the impact of digital technologies on racial equality and non-discrimination in the border enforcement and administration context and assess states’ applicable obligations under international human rights law. She hopes her report will, inter alia:

  • Situate current uses of digital technologies for border enforcement and administration in relevant historical, social, and economic contexts, including the racial structures and dynamics underlying those uses;
  • Document how digital technologies in the context of border enforcement and administration replicate racial and political hierarchies, and reproduce, reinforce, and compound discrimination and inequality;
  • Identify how adverse impacts may intersect with other forms of discrimination, xenophobia, or related intolerance;
  • Elaborate on legal and normative human rights frameworks applicable to border enforcement and administration, including obligations to ensure digital technologies do not impinge on racial equality;
  • Identify measures that States, civil society actors, or others have taken to curb the adverse and disproportionate effects of digital technologies on refugees, migrants, stateless persons, non-citizens, and any individuals and groups who are or are perceived to be foreign;
  • Outline existing good practices to ensure that actors who develop, sell, and use digital technologies in the context of border enforcement and administration are held accountable for racial discrimination and other racialized harms;
  • Identify practices for ensuring the participation of migrants, historically marginalized racial and ethnic groups, and other affected communities in decisions concerning the use of digital technologies;
  • Identify community-based good practices for countering racial discrimination and inequality arising from the use of digital technologies, as well as community-based alternative models of border enforcement and administration; and
  • Provide concrete recommendations to all relevant stakeholders, including states, corporations, concerned communities and their representatives. 

How Submissions Will Strengthen Special Rapporteur’s Report

To inform her report, the Special Rapporteur wishes to receive input from relevant stakeholders, including national and local governments, national and international non-governmental organizations, human rights institutions and equality bodies, inter-governmental organizations, United Nations agencies and entities, activists, academics, and corporations. She invites all interested stakeholders to provide information and share their views on issues within the purview of this report.

The sections below offer examples of information that would assist the Special Rapporteur and her team in drafting the report. However, the Special Rapporteur welcomes examples and information that may not be listed below.

Digital Technologies in Border Enforcement and Administration – Forms, Context, and Relevant Actors 

  • Digital technologies deployed in border enforcement and administration;
  • Structural, economic, social, and historical factors that have led to the prevalence of digital technologies in border enforcement and administration; and
  • Actors governing, developing, participating in, or affected by these digital technologies. 

Discriminatory Impacts Arising from Use of Digital Technologies in the Context of Border Enforcement and Administration  

  • The role of new technologies in reproducing, reinforcing, and compounding discrimination based on race, color, descent, ethnic or national origin, religion, or citizenship;
  • The experiences of vulnerable and marginalized populations, including refugees, migrants, stateless people, non-citizens, and citizens perceived or treated as foreign with respect to digital technologies;
  • The distinct harms that arise for groups at the intersection of multiple marginalized identities; 
  • Experimental use of new technologies, surveillance methods, and data gathering tools on vulnerable groups;
  • Violations of the social, cultural, economic, and human rights facilitated or legitimized by digital technologies;
  • The interaction between digital technologies used in border enforcement, and structural forms of racial discrimination—including, but not limited to, institutional racism, implicit bias, unconscious racism, and facially race-neutral policies having a discriminatory effect; and 
  • The impact of race, ethnicity, national origin, and religion on the ability to access privacy, technological benefits, and meaningful consent to the usage of technology. 

State and Corporate Governance, Including Protection Gaps and Good Practices 

  • Government and international oversight, supervision and control policies concerning the development of digital technologies used in border enforcement and administration;
  • State and corporate consideration of international legal and policy instruments prohibiting racial, ethnic, and national origin discrimination and various forms of intolerance, in technology development for border enforcement and administration;
  • Policies and procedures governing state and corporate response to incidents of discrimination and intolerance facilitated by digital technologies in border enforcement and administration;
  • Government and corporate procedures for consulting with and obtaining meaningful consent from communities potentially affected by digital technologies in border enforcement and administration; and
  • Current or potential practices aimed at eliminating discrimination in border enforcement and administration through digital technologies.

Community-Based Practices and Alternatives  

  • Participation of impacted groups in the creation, development and use of digital technologies for border enforcement and administration; 
  • Processes for informing the public about the management and use of digital technologies for border enforcement and administration;
  • Processes for ensuring respect for human rights in the creation, development and use of digital technologies for border enforcement and administration;  
  • Incorporation of local and community knowledge of the creation, development and use of digital technologies for border enforcement and administration;  
  • Responses to mobility and migration rooted in non-dominant epistemic traditions; 
  • Alternative examples of oversight and regulation of digital technologies in the context of border enforcement and administration; and 
  • Alternative or community-based practices for managing and resisting human rights violations linked to digital technologies for border enforcement and administration.

How to Submit Information to the Special Rapporteur

Please email your written submissions to racism@ohchr.org.

The mandate will receive written submissions through 15 May 2020, but strongly encourages early submissions.

Additional supporting materials, such as reports, academic studies, and other background materials may be annexed to the submission.

To help her staff identify submissions, the Special Rapporteur kindly requests that respondents write “Submission regarding 2020 thematic report to the GA” in the email subject line.

Hard copy submissions may be sent to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations Office at Geneva, CH-1211, Geneva 10 (Fax: +41 22 917 90 06).

The mandate welcomes submissions in the official working languages of the United Nations (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish), as well as in Portuguese.

Secure Submissions

If you have concerns about digital security and your submission, you may wish to contact organizations that can provide you with information and support. One such organization, Access Now, has a free digital security helpline to help keep individuals and organizations safe online. Inquiries can be sent to help@accessnow.org.

Public Availability of Submissions

Please indicate in your submission whether we can publish all or part of it on the website of the Special Rapporteur. We will not publish any submissions without the explicit consent of the submitting individual and/or organization.