A migrant checks his phone

A migrant checks his phone

Carl Court/Getty Images

Governments are busy trying to stem the mass movement of more than 100,000 refugees and migrants who have landed on Europe’s shores so far this year. They follow in the footsteps of more than a million who arrived last year.

That’s why border fences are being hastily put up. The human costs are clear. Ugly scenes unfold daily as frustrated asylum seekers mass at crossing points – the latest in Macedonia, where tear gas was fired at a crowd who had broken through a border fence, and in Calais, France, where an unofficial camp was bulldozed.

Europe, used to freedom of movement within its Schengen zone and aware of the potential for unrest, is hoping surveillance technology can help it gain control, in part made possible by the popularity of smartphones.

Earlier this month, Europe’s border agency Frontex reportedly called for technology companies to come up with ideas to help it track incoming refugees. It has been suggested that refugees could be persuaded to download apps that send back data on their movements, offering services like weather forecasts in return.

This looks like clutching at straws. Apart from obvious privacy issues, it looks unlikely that official apps would be accessed by refugees on any kind of useful scale. The chances that they will voluntarily use an app developed for a government agency by companies such as Securiport LLC, Crossmatch, Unisys, Thales and 3M, is vanishingly small.

Instead, border agencies should use the scale and power of digital technology to engage with incoming refugees in …

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