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Digital Monitoring as a Threat to Human Mobility

Written by Mirna Wabi-Sabi
Originally published at the CyberOrient journal.
Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters


During the COVID-19 pandemic, a “privacy nutrition label” was introduced to the Apple applications store. Its aim was to simplify access that consumers have to the content of terms and conditions, specifically to its implications on individual privacy. Nevertheless, undocumented migrants in the United States and Europe were and still are subject to invasive digital monitoring, begging the question of how to handle unhinged uses of technological advances by government institutions. Artificial intelligence has been used to predict the geographical movements of migrants, and phone applications have been used as an alternative to incarceration and ankle bracelets. It seems that technological advances do not move parallel to improvements in the human condition, which is why keeping up with these advances is a challenge to those who are struggling to improve their living conditions. In the following article, Artificial Intelligence and Integration Contracts of asylum requests are discussed within the framework of immigration rights and modern tools of governmental abuse of power.

Key Words: Artificial Intelligence, Integration Contracts, asylum seekers, privacy, human mobility.

To sign off on; phrasal verb meaning “give one’s approval to something.”

We all sign things nowadays, but not all of us get to sign off on things. The use of a signature as a way to grant approval is not the same as the more commonplace practice of signing things like “terms and conditions.” This distinction ought to be made because in identifying when a signature is not empowering or representative of consent, we can look for alternative tools of resistance against the established order—one which uses signatures to control and subjugate disenfranchised segments of the population.

Signatures earn significance through institutions of power by governments that establish order and have the resources to enforce this order. In any hierarchical structure, signing off on something is indicative of a status difference, as is the ability to make someone sign an unfavorable agreement.

A good example of this is our routine practice of downloading apps into our smartphones. Apple, for instance, signs off on the apps it allows on its app store, but the terms and conditions we agree to when we download them are certainly unfavorable to us as consumers. In an attempt to mitigate this issue, a “privacy nutrition label” was introduced to apps in the store during the covid pandemic, supposedly simplifying access consumers have to the content of these conditions.

The labels are probably a result of the GDPR, which Apple cites in its page detailing Privacy Policies (Apple Store 2022) and requires not only transparency over these policies but also for this information to be presented in a way people can easily understand. Unfortunately, these “nutrition labels” are neither effective nor accurate (Fowler 2021), exacerbating the issue of unfavorable agreements we consent to through digital signatures.

Earlier in 2022, in the wake of abortion bans in the United States, women encouraged each other to remove period-tracking apps from their phones for fear of potential privacy breaches and legal backlash. This is a way of not signing, not consenting, to personal data sharing. It is also a form of a general strike, provoking a sharp turn in the industry. To be able to delete something from your smartphone is thus a privileged position to be in.