SOAS University of London

Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

Discretion and the Data Border

Dr Alexandra Hall (University of York)

Date: 1 October 2014Time: 5:00 PM

Finishes: 1 October 2014Time: 7:00 PM

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G51

Type of Event: Seminar

In international ‘smart’ border targeting systems, passenger data make possible future-oriented security calculations such as the advanced screening of passengers and rules-based profiling. Data targeting gives the illusion that authoritative distinctions between mobile people are already present in the data but this view occludes the suspension of active security decisions within algorithmic sorting. It also occludes the performativity of data abstractions and the interplay between data and discretion. The question is not simply how ‘digital footprints’ come to identify certain mobile lives as risky or trusted within the turn to data in security practice and beyond. Rather, a full account of contemporary border governance must examine the way in which data intelligence and discretionary judgement are intertwined in decisions to target threat within risk-based modes of control.

This paper draws on qualitative fieldwork with staff at a European border targeting centre, including interviews with data analysts who are responsible for processing ‘matches’ between immigration and security databases and incoming passenger data. The paper proceeds on the notion that data ‘profiles’ and matches can be thought of as active objects within security practice, but it goes beyond deterministic techno-scientific approaches by examining individual data targeters’ encounters with data as a means of understanding the everyday production and enactment of security. More specifically, the research focuses on the meaning, experience and enactment of discretion (as an ethical moment, and as a means of governing) within data encounters, arguing that it is the changing meaning of discretion in technologically enhanced border security governance that warrants attention. When the public is reassured that a person will ‘check’ all automated risk matches, the meaning and practice of discretion within these checks has ramifications for our understanding of the contemporary enactment of sovereign power within the broader turn to data within security.

About the speaker

Alex Hall is Lecturer in Politics at the University of York. A trained anthropologist, she is interested in the international securitisation of mobility and contemporary border politics in the west. She is the author of Border Watch: Cultures of Immigration, Detention and Control (Pluto Press, 2012), an ethnography of the everyday experience of security in an immigration removal centre and the co-editor (with Professor Lisette Josephides) of We the Cosmopolitans (Berghahn, 2014), an anthropological consideration of cosmopolitanism as a lived experience.

Organiser: Centre for Migration and Diaspora Studies

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