Big data for whose sake? Governing migration through artificial intelligence

Tuba Bircan, Emre Eren Korkmaz

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debate

10 Citations (Scopus)


Although human activity constantly generates massive amounts of data, these data can only be analysed by mainly the private sector and governmental institutes due to data accessibility restrictions. However, neither migrants (as the producers of this data) nor migration scholars (as scientific experts on the topic) are in a position to monitor or control how governments and corporations use such data. Big Data analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies are promoted as cutting-edge solutions to ongoing and emerging social, economic and governance challenges. Meanwhile, states increasingly rely on digital and frontier technologies to manage borders and control migratory movements, and the defence industry and military–intelligence sectors provide high-tech tools to support these efforts. Worryingly, during the design and testing of algorithmic tools, migrants are often portrayed as a security threat instead of human beings with fundamental rights and liberties. Thus, privacy, data protection, and confidentiality issues continue to pose risks and challenges to migrant communities and raise important questions for the public and decision-makers alike. This comment seeks to shed light on the lack of effective regulation of AI and Big Data as they are applied in migration ‘management’. Additionally, from the perspective of privacy issues and immigrant rights (seeking asylum as a human right, it aims at advocating improved access to Big Data for scientific research which might act as a social control function for the smart border and existing/ongoing migration governance practices of countries. We argue that the use of Big Data and AI for migration governance requires much better collaboration between migrants (including the civil society and grassroots organisations solidarity that represent them), data scientists, migration scholars and policymakers if the potential of these technologies is to be reached in a way that is reasonable and ethical. Numerous critical privacy questions arise are regarding the legal requirements, confidentiality, and rules of engagement as well as the ethical concerns of (mis)use of new technologies. When the secretive nature of the ongoing exploitation of migrant data by states and corporations is considered raising such questions is essential for progress.

Original languageEnglish
Article number241
Number of pages5
JournalHumanities & social sciences communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


  • Artificial INtelligence, Big Data, Migration, Governance


Dive into the research topics of 'Big data for whose sake? Governing migration through artificial intelligence'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this