AI, biometrics and securitisation in migration management: policy options for South Africa
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The use of AI and data for the management of migration has become increasingly intrusive through the harvesting of biometric data, both in South Africa and globally. Biometric passports use intimate personal data, such as retina scans and fingerprints to link individuals with broader networks of databases on prohibited persons. These databases establish patterns of geospatial surveillance which are used to inform decisions
about who is denied or granted access to a country. In South Africa, AI and data-based technologies such as biometrics are a critical tool of the risk-based approach to migration set out in the 2017 White Paper on International Migration. However, concerns are being raised globally that such policy measures are creating unintended negative consequences. The generation of virtual personal profiles and the resultant potential
for unethical stereotyping and discrimination by officials or commercial actors is high, particularly in the
context of prevailing xenophobic attitudes in South Africa. International trends and implementation of biometric systems in other countries have in instances been controversial in this regard. It is imperative South Africa should address the reliability of such technologies, and the inherent risks of the utilisation thereof within the management of migration. In particular, mechanisms for legal appeal against inaccurate AI or biometric classifications must be strengthened and made available and accessible.