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Foreword – Building a responsible digital infrastructure
  • Jessica Bither and Jassin Irscheid
  • May 2024

Digital technologies are transforming the way human mobility is experienced and managed across borders. This issue offers insights into the different ways in which technologies are changing displacement-related settings around the world: from predictive modelling to anticipate climate-induced migration, biometric data collection in humanitarian operations and asylum seekers’ experiences using the CBP One app in Mexico, to the use of mobile phone data by the Dutch and German authorities, and opportunities and challenges presented by the digital platform economy. These examples illustrate the often ambivalent nature of technology and the importance of context and nuance in understanding their implications.

We are at a crossroads. Choices regarding the values and safeguards we build into emerging digital architecture are being made now. The way human mobility is integrated in emerging technology regulation, such as the regulation of AI (artificial intelligence) or DPI (digital public infrastructure), will determine how we manage important risks related to issues of security, privacy and democratic oversight. There is also the potential for algorithmic bias or for enshrining existing inequalities, racism, and other forms of structural discrimination through automated systems.

If designed responsibly, digital infrastructure for human mobility could lay the groundwork for a system better attuned to the displacement and migration realties of today, and offer the backbone for more flexible and adaptable tools that can respond quickly to changing rules and demands. For example, digitalising visa processes could make it easier to incorporate new requirements, respond to changes in labour demands, or adapt to sudden disasters or crises.

At The Robert Bosch Stiftung, we focus on digital technologies and migration as one of our core issue areas and we work closely with key stakeholders and partners towards answering the question: How can we use digital technologies responsibly in the areas of migration and displacement? The answer must necessarily include identifying red lines where the risks are simply too great, being clear about what the purpose or motivation behind the deployment and use of digital technologies is, and critically assessing who makes the decisions about the rules that govern them. It also means seeing digital disruption as a way to transform old ways of thinking or outdated approaches that are no longer fit for purpose in managing human mobility in today’s rapidly changing world.

We hope that this issue is another step in building a community to critically engage with these important questions, and to get closer to answering what a responsible and human-centred approach to digital technologies in migration or displacement settings should – and could – look like in practice.

Jessica Bither, Senior Expert for Tech and Migration
Jassin Irscheid, Project Manager for Migration
The Robert Bosch Stiftung GmbH, Berlin, Germany

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