Epistemic Domination by Data Extraction: Questioning the Use of Biometrics and Mobile Phone Data Analysis in Asylum Procedures

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In a growing number of destination countries state authorities have started to use various digital devices such as analysis of data captured from mobile phones to verify asylum seekers’ claimed country of origin. This move has prompted some critics to claim that asylum decision-making is increasingly delegated to machines. Based on fieldwork at a reception centre in Germany, this paper mobilises insights from science and technology studies (STS) to develop a framework that allows for more nuanced analyses and modes of critiques of the digitization of asylum procedures. Rather than thinking human and non-human forms of agency as external to one another in order to juxtapose them in a zero-sum game, I comprehend the introduction of digital technologies as a reconfiguration of existing human-machine configurations. This conception highlights how the use digital technologies enables caseworkers to retain their position as an epistemic authority in asylum decision-making by assembling clues about asylum seekers’ country of origin generated by digital technologies into hard juridical evidence. Subsequently, I develop an alternative critique that focuses on epistemic implications of the digitisation of asylum procedures. I identify a particular version of data colonialism that enables epistemic domination by means of data extraction.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ethnic and Migration Studies
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024