Border Security and the Insights of Data

with Prof. Alex Hall
Thursday, 12 September 2019 - 11:00 am to 12:30 pm
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Philippe Frowd
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Free of charge
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The rise of big data and complex analytics have altered the way that wars are fought, populations are policed, democracy functions, commerce works and security is produced. Authorities counter widespread concerns about these shifts – machine bias, automated discrimination, privacy infringements – by insisting that algorithms merely allow efficient and “better-informed” human decision-making. In truth, algorithms are neither replacing or simply enhancing existing human activity: the arrangements of humans and computers produced by contemporary data and analytics are a complex “association and a division of labour” (Aradau and Blanke (2015: 5). In this paper, I focus on this association as it relates to the production of security decisions at international borders. More specifically, I consider the contemporary politics of risk-based, data-led border security by interrogating the idea of ‘insight’. Insight, of course, is the ultimate promise of data and analytics, but what is the nature of the insight offered by data? And what effect does it have in practice? Drawing on qualitative fieldwork with data processors at an automated border targeting centre, I argue for a critical treatment of insight - one that is historically contextualised and which encompasses its shared contemporary production by humans and data analytics.


Alex Hall is Senior Lecturer in the Department of Politics at the University of York. Alex's research focuses on the international securitisation of mobility and contemporary border politics in the west, drawing on interdisciplinary work from international relations, anthropology and critical security and border studies. She has conducted research into the everyday production and experience of security within immigration detention, and the rise of ‘smart’ e-border targeting systems in the UK and Europe.

She is currently investigating the relationship between discretion and the rise of risk technologies in security decisions, and is developing a project about security volunteers and vigilantes.

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