12 May 2022
The EU has spent €341 million on research into artificial intelligence technologies for asylum, immigration and border control purposes since 2007, yet the proposed AI Act currently being debated in EU institutions fails to provide meaningful safeguards against harmful uses of those technologies, says a report published today by Statewatch.
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The report, A clear and present danger: Missing safeguards on migration and asylum in the EU’s AI Act (pdf), identifies a total of 51 projects looking into diverse potential uses of AI technologies, including autonomous border control robots, biometric identification and verification devices, and automated data-gathering and analysis systems.
Private companies have received more of the funding (€163 million) than any other type of institution, with transnational military and security companies such as Indra, Leonardo, Israel Aerospace Industries and GMV Aerospace and Defence amongst the primary recipients.
The funds for have come from the EU’s research and development programmes, of which the current iteration, Horizon Europe, is worth a total of €93 billion and runs from 2021 to 2027. €1.4 billion of that total is devoted to “civil security”, and the first work programme makes €55 million available for projects on “border management”. 
The report is published in the same week that a coalition of human rights organisations, including Statewatch, have published proposals for amendments to the AI Act  that would ensure the law provides fundamental rights protections for people subjected to AI systems in asylum, immigration and border proceedings.
‘A clear and present danger’ demonstrates how numerous existing uses of advanced technology –remote biometric identification systems, automated assessment and verification tools, profiling technologies embedded in large-scale EU databases, border surveillance and predictive analytics systems – are insufficiently covered by or even excluded altogether from the scope of the AI Act, placing people in an already-vulnerable positions at even greater risk of having their rights violated.
These demands stand in stark contrast to those put forward by advocates of a more laissez-faire approach to the deployment of advanced technologies – as a report produced by the consultancy firm RAND Europe for EU border agency Frontex put it: “Legislations and regulations appear to be the barriers that technology developers will need to overcome to ensure the use of their AI-based solution.” 
Jane Kilpatrick, Statewatch researcher and co-author of the report, comments:
“With attention now on the Parliament to submit amendments to the act by 18 May, it is striking to note how much the Commission has already invested in AI technology for border control that will have a direct impact on people’s lives and rights. It is vital that significant changes are made to the Act before it becomes EU law.”
Chris Jones, Statewatch director and co-author of the report, said:
“It is vital that the AI Act includes meaningful protections for people crossing borders, who are already subjected to a substantial risk of multiple rights violations. Strong legal protections that can be enforced are crucial – but campaigners and advocates also need to be ready for a longer-term struggle against dehumanising and dangerous technologies, many of which are being developed with public funding.”
The full report and dataset are available here.
 European Commission, ‘Horizon Europe Work Programme 2021-2022 – 6. Civil Security for Society’, C(2021)9128, 15 December 2021, https://ec.europa.eu/info/funding-tenders/opportunities/docs/2021-2027/horizon/wp-call/2021-2022/wp-6-civil-security-for-society_horizon-2021-2022_en.pdf
 'Uses of AI in migration and border control: A fundamental rights approach to the Artificial Intelligence Act', https://edri.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/Migration_2-pager-02052022-for-online.pdf
 'Artificial intelligence-based capabilities for the European Border and Coast Guard', March 2021, https://frontex.europa.eu/assets/Publications/Research/Frontex_AI_Research_Study_2020_final_report.pdf
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