New EU migrant pact ushering in ‘deadly new era of digital surveillance,’ privacy experts warn

The warning from a coalition of European digital rights groups comes after years-long deadlock was broken with the polarising new legislation.


A coalition of European digital rights groups say that the European Union’s sweeping new Migration and Asylum Pact will “usher in a deadly new era of digital surveillance”.

The Protect Not Surveil coalition, which includes groups like the Border Violence Project, Privacy International, and Access Now, said in a statement that the pact “represents the further embedding of surveillance technologies in the EU”.

“It therefore represents a further erosion of fundamental rights, and the normalisation of digital surveillance at, and within, borders, justified by an approach to migration policy based on repression rather than rights,” it states.

Last year, the EU received 1.14 million applications for international protection and registered 380,000 irregular border crossings.

The European Commission broke a years-long deadlock on new migration legislation with the passing of the EU Migration Pact last week.

It’s described as a “set of new rules managing migration and establishing a common asylum system,” that is “firm, but fair”.

Euronews Next approached the Commission for comment but did not respond at the time of publication.

‘Dangerously vague and undefined’

The new legislation will perform what the Commission calls “robust screening” on those who do not meet the conditions to enter the EU, which includes health and security checks.

Asylum seekers will then be put through one of two possible next steps: a traditional asylum claim or an expedited one that will last roughly 12 weeks.

The expedited procedure is meant for those that the Commission identifies as a “national security risk,” who provide “misleading information” or who come from countries with low recognition rates of asylum claims.

The coalition notes the concepts of security are “dangerously vague and undefined,” which could mean that border officials might be more likely to fall back on “discriminatory practices,” for making decisions on how long asylum claims will last, like using nationality as a proxy for race.

“People identified as posing a risk… will be pushed into an accelerated procedure with fewer safeguards,” its statement reads.

Asylum seekers through the expedited programme will be detained at the border for the length of their process in “detention facilities,” where they can get access to interpreters and counselling while they wait for their claim to be processed.

The coalition said it’s likely that these detention centres will be built the same way as three “model” refugee centres on the Greek Aegean Islands that “[rely] on high-tech surveillance to monitor and control people”. 

Those refugee centres already built in Greece use motion sensors, cameras and fingerprint access on site, the coalition continues.

“Far from treating as a ‘last resort,’ chillingly, the Pact foresees the expansion of detention across Europe,” the statement reads.

Possible invasive digital practices

The Pact also expands the Eurodac migrant and asylum database: a collection of all the fingerprints from irregular border crossings. Europe’s modified this database several times since its creation in 2003.

The expanded Eurodac system will also collect facial images, copies of passports or other identity documents as well as other types of “identity data”.


The regulations also extend how long personal data will be stored; some unspecified data will be kept for five years, others 10 years.

Children as young as six years old will also have their data collected, which the Commission said will help police identify children that “are vulnerable from human trafficking and exploitation”.

With this information, Eurodac will be able to see and stop an individual from filing multiple claims for asylum.

The coalition argues that the data collection could increase the “repression of human rights defenders,” because it will be exchanged with the relevant authorities at every step of the asylum process.

The Pact also says that, at any time during the asylum process, applicants could have their belongings searched “in accordance with national law,” if it’s deemed necessary by European authorities.


The coalition argues that these searches could pave the way for “invasive practices,” like the extraction of mobile phone data to find information that contradicts or disproves an asylum claim; processes that the coalition notes are already being used in several European countries, like Germany and Denmark.

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2024-04-17 11:13:20

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