Call for papers: The Ethics of border control in a digital age

This article was published on

This event will take place online on the August 29-30. Registration will open after the call for papers closes.

“Borders have guards and guards have guns”, wrote Joseph Carens in a 1987 article inaugurating what is often referred to as the ‘immigration admissions debate’. While many borders today are still manned by gun-wielding border guards, not all borders have human guards and not all guards have guns. Today, a ‘border guard’ is as likely to be an algorithm as a person, biometric data or risk profiling software the ‘weapon’ of control and decision-making, and one’s own home, computer, or smartphone to be the place of encounter with ‘the border’. This workshop seeks to explore a range of ethical challenges raised by the rapid development of, and innovations in, border control in a digital age.

Normative political theorists have extensively debated the right of states to control migration, focusing on which categories of migrant states can legitimately admit/exclude, and what makes such decisions morally acceptable. However, normative theorists have devoted much less attention to the ethical questions raised by how border controls are implemented.

Simultaneously, scholars in Critical Border/Security Studies (broadly understood) have fundamentally altered social-scientific understandings of what and where borders are, and how they work. Of particular relevance is a focus on the increasing digitisation of borders and border controls, the displacement of borders away from the physical demarcations of state territory (‘externalisation’), and the fluid/mobile, rather than fixed/static, nature of borders. While this work often gestures toward a number of important ethical questions about the digitalisation and externalisation of borders and controls, there hasn’t yet been a systematic treatment of these ethical questions from a normative perspective.

Finally, Critical Data Studies, and Science and Technology Studies, have devoted considerable attention to the emerging ethical issues posed by biometrics, algorithmic decision-making and artificial intelligence in general, with a particular focus on privacy norms. It has been slow, however, to extend these reflections to border control practices, or to ethical issues beyond privacy and data protection. 

This workshop is an ideal opportunity for scholars from a variety of disciplinary perspective working at the intersection of ethics, digital technology, and border control/immigration, to come together to discuss the ethical challenges posed by border controls in a digital age. We therefore welcome paper proposals from scholars and practitioners whose work focuses broadly speaking, on the normative implications and challenges of the rapidly developing digital technology and migration landscape. Papers could address, but are not limited to, the following questions/issues:

  • The role of ethics in the design, testing and roll-out of technological innovation, and the challenges this process faces.
  • How to think about accountability, responsibility, and transparency of, for example, algorithmic systems and machine learning.
  • The ethics of the new immigrant surveillance: biometrics and big data.
  • Promises and/or pitfalls of techno-utopianism in migration/refugee management.
  • “Smart borders”, big tech, and the privatization of immigration enforcement
  • Algorithmic racism in the administration of immigration and refugee programs.
  • Political/legal philosophy of migration and the digital age: a new paradigm?

Submission Guidelines

Please send an abstract of up to 400 words, and a 150 word biography, to, by Monday 13th June, 2022.

Please note that the workshop organisers would like to explore developing a journal special issue with workshop participants. If you would like your paper to be considered for a special issue then it cannot be in the process of being published or already be committed to another publication.