Migrants at/as risk: Identity verification and risk assessment technologies in the Netherlands

Karolina La Fors, Irma Van der Ploeg

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)


International policy discourse on migration and practices geared toward the sorting out of entitlements for migrants to enter and reside in a country mobilize a discourse that increasingly frames them as posing risks to the societies of their host countries (Leers, 2012; Leers, 2011), notwithstanding the fact that only a small minority of migrants are associated with criminal offences, e.g., organized crime, illegal entry, human trafficking, or terrorism. In the main, migrants with refugee or asylum seeker status, as well as those seeking this designation, arrive as a consequence of wars, natural disasters, political or economic unrest, human trafficking, international crime, or a combination thereof. These immigrants can be regarded as being at risk. Although technological systems of migration and border control are generally installed to prevent threats to a country’s inhabitants, including threats associated with migrants, countries also have the obligation to assist and protect vulnerable migrants. Today, the perspective on migrants as vulnerable and at risk seems to lose traction. This chapter discusses how immigrants and travellers are increasingly framed as posing a risk to the Netherlands. More specifically, we analyse the way that modes of prevention (Bigo & Guild, 2005; Broeders, 2009), and their associated risk assessment systems have come to focus on translating specific problems around migrants into problems of identity fraud, illegal entry and illegal residence. The ways in which these problems are defined and managed has drawn attention towards improving the establishment and the management of ‘identity’ . These identification and identity verification practices have ethical implications because they may be instrumental in discriminative exclusion and inclusion. For this reason, we focus in particular on two identification and one risk assessment practice performed by Dutch border control, migration and law enforcement agencies. The first system is the identification and verification console of the Dutch Immigration and Naturalisation Service, the INS console, the second is part of the information provision program (in Dutch: Programma Informatievoorziening Strafrechtsketen) within the Dutch criminal law chain, called PROGIS console. The third is the Advanced Passenger Information system (henceforth: API). Although they differ significantly, as they are situated in different practices and operated for different purposes, this chapter aims to articulate some shared characteristics and implications of their use. We suggest that all these systems contribute to a shift that increasingly frames migrants as posing a risk, as opposed to potentially being at risk. Moreover, we aim to show how the quest for ‘accurate identity’, and the technologies used to approach this goal, transform the problem in specific ways, and, in the process, create new uncertainties and risks for those subjected to them. We argue that this happens because of the particular way problems of identity fraud and illegal entry are translated (Latour, 1987) into specific technological solutions. To illustrate this dynamic, in section two the systems will be described and how identity verification of certain categories of migrants and risk profiling of travellers is enabled by these systems. Section three discusses how the ‘accuracy of identity’ and an accurate ‘risk profile’ are produced, by focusing on the development of ‘risk indicators’. The fourth section identifies a number of pitfalls in the socio-technical production of ‘identity’, and ‘risk’ by looking deeper into the functioning of these systems in practice. The analysis is based on empirical data gathered from professionals using these systems and is guided by actor-network theory (Akrich, 1992; Latour, 1987) and a material-semiotics informed approach (Law, 2009).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDigitizing Identities
Subtitle of host publicationDoing Identity in a Networked World
EditorsIrma Van der Ploeg, Jason Pridmore
Place of PublicationNew York
Number of pages21
ISBN (Print)978-1-138-79463-4
Publication statusPublished - 19 Nov 2015


Dive into the research topics of 'Migrants at/as risk: Identity verification and risk assessment technologies in the Netherlands'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this