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'Impact of information technology on Marechaussee’s border controls is limited'

The Schengen Agreement has resulted in systematic border controls between EU Member States largely ceasing to apply. Solutions for the associated security risks are often sought in information technology. Tim Dekkers investigated how such technology is applied in this context and will defend his PhD thesis on 20 March.

'Information and information technology are playing an increasingly larger role in society today', Dekkers says. 'One area in which developments related to information-driven work are clearly visible is migration control. The removal of systematic border controls involves security risks, as there is no longer a clear picture of who is moving in and out of the country. These risks have acquired a prominent role in debates in society now that migrants are increasingly associated with crime.'

Authorities are collecting more and more information about who is crossing their border and at what moment.  This information can then be used for a risk analysis to detect potential high-risk individuals and to take action if necessary. 'Though expectations related to such information and information technology are high, little research has been conducted on how this is used in practice, and whether these expectations are fulfilled. This dissertation aims to provide more insight into the use of information and information technology in migration control.'

For his research, Dekkers carried out a case study at the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee which is responsible for the Dutch border controls. The control task is referred to as Mobile Security Monitoring (MTV). 'MTV checks are aimed at combatting illegal migration, identity fraud and people smuggling. Although these checks are carried out on motorways, waterways, trains and airports, this research only focusses on motorway checks.' Information technology plays a prominent role in this monitoring task. 'Risk analysis is used to determine where and when checks will be most effective. In addition, the Marechaussee uses an intelligent camera system to support its officers in selecting which vehicles they will or will not check within the scope of immigration law. By means of observations during MTV checks, group interviews with officers, interviews with policy makers and document analysis, the objectives of information and information technology become clear and how this is reflected in practice.'

Little added value

Although expectations of policy makers are high when it comes to information and information technology, it appears from observations and interviews with officers that this technology has only a limited impact on decisions taken during MTV checks. 'Officers give as an underlying reason for this that the information they receive is often not specific enough and they see little added value in the intelligent camera system that is intended to support their work.'

In addition to this, the researcher proposes that there is an apparent shift in the objective of MTV. 'When MTV was established, the checks were clearly aimed at migration control, but in the course of time more emphasis has been placed on combatting crime, both at the political level as well as the implementation level. This creates tension in view of the official objectives of MTV and the corresponding authorities of the officers.'

Although according to this objective, MTV should be aimed at migration, identity fraud and people smuggling, in practice officers also keep an eye out for matters such as drug trafficking, human trafficking and money laundering, according to Dekkers. 'This shift in MTV being applied as an instrument for combatting crime is reinforced by the intelligent camera system, developed in the context of supervising compliance with immigration law, being used for objectives related to criminal law.'

Supervisor prof. mr. dr. M.A.H. van der Woude:

'Tim's research is unique in the sense that he has conducted empirical research into the interaction between technology and 'human work' within the context of border control. This is an important topic that we actually don't know much about. Tim's dissertation will certainly change that. Together with his colleague Jelmer Brouwer, he spent hours at the borders of the Netherlands - in all weather conditions - to perform special and groundbreaking fieldwork among the employees of the Royal Netherlands Marechaussee.'

Supervisor prof. dr. J.P. van der Leun:

'In addition to all that fieldwork, Tim has worked steadily and the result is impressive, a beautiful dissertation based on articles that have all been published or accepted by international peer-reviewed journals. His socially relevant research has been awarded with a good job at the Inspectorate for Justice and Security. We have been working together with great pleasure for years and hope to bring more PhD candidates to the finish line in the near future.'

Text: Floris van den Driesche

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