On April 5th, renowned border scholars Dr. Didier Bigo (Queen Mary, University of London and Radboud University, Nijmegen) and Dr. Elspeth Guild (King’s College London) visited Ottawa to deliver a talk on Borders, Data, and Privacy, speaking to the legal and conceptual risks posed by increasing reliance on technology and corporate data in today’s border security regime. Presenting Chaired global scholar Dr. Martin Geiger (Carleton University) and former MA student, Amanda Bergmann, the panel presented to a packed audience which topped out capacity at the venue, Bar Robo.

Dr. Elspeth Guild and Dr. Didier Bigo set the stage, reminding the audience of European countries history and past of totalitarian dictatorships whose regimes used data and information as tools of suppression and subjugation of populations. While the EU has maintained and updated its laws of privacy and information protection to better secure the rights of individuals (such as with the GDPR) it still remains a problematic area as it has taken to working with corporations (such as airline carriers) or other nations to gain such information. As Dr. Guild asserted, international borders have become points of privacy and information vulnerabilities, in which countries gather and share data with one another as not covered by constitutional law. This, largely pushed by the United States and information-sharing mechanisms with the Five Eyes security alliance, has become a point of legal vulnerability that requires greater attention.

Dr. Didier BIgo then complimented Dr. Guild’s legal framework illustration, integrating the broader theoretical and conceptual lens for a regulatory framework. One of the many issues he raises is that policymakers and politicians, in Europe and the world over, often attempt to shift border practices to technological solutions, either tacitly or implicitly asserting that they will be less discriminatory than their human predecessor – an assertion that Dr. Bigo marked as simply false. Rather, these technologies have the potential to be embedded with the same prejudicial practices as humans but can often be more dangerous as glorified computers which can make such decisions on massive scales and at rapid speeds. This leaves individuals open to furthered practices of discrimination with a smaller and smaller window for recourse.

Dr. Guild and Dr. Bigo continue their field research into topics of borders as areas of information vulnerabilities, conducting interviews with border security officials, immigration officials, corporate bodies, and intelligence offices to better understand the future of our transnational borders.

This talk was co-organized by the Mobility & Politics Research Collective, Dept. of Political Science, and Institute of European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies (EURUS) at Carleton University. This event was also made possible by the Centre for European Studies Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence (made possible through Eurasmus+ of the European Union), also based at Carleton University.