Drones may track migrants

The notice appeared quietly on the website of Frontex, Europe’s agency to fight undocumented migration.It called for expressions of interest in demonstrating “Small UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) and Fixed systems for Land border surveillance” at its workshop. “In the domain of land border surveillance, there is a wide spectrum of possible technical means that can be employed to provide effective surveillance including: daylight and infrared cameras, ground radars, fixed ground sensors, mobile systems, manned aircraft and satellites,” the notice read.

“However, it is clear that Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) could also play an important role in further enhancing border surveillance in the future, though they face a number of technical and other challenges.”

Cautious as this sounds, Frontex has been particularly interested in introducing UAVs, or Drones as they are more popularly known, for European border surveillance. Frontex spokesman Michal Parzyszek says the agency has researched this possibility extensively this year.

Frontex declined to give IPS details on development or deployment of any UAVs.

But the development of an integrated European Surveillance System (EUROSUR) in which Frontex has leading influence has been attracting producers of security equipment such as Drones and other surveillance systems.

The European Security Research and Innovation Forum (ESRIF) that ran between 2007 and 2009 brought together individuals and groups from the research community, the private business security sector, and European institutions. Frontex has been a key voice in the forum.

The agency set up in 2004, and that became operational the following year, is the European Union front to tackle unwanted migration. Frontex coordinates sea patrol, reconnaissance flights, naval and land operations, and ropes in experts to identify the country of origin of detained irregular migrants.

Frontex chaired the third working group (WG3) of the forum. Ben Hages, researcher with the Transnational Institute, says WG3 brought together 80 members – 20 from the ‘demand side’ (government and state agencies) and 60 from the ‘supply side’ (industry).

During the last two years Frontex has been a regular participant in forums promoting the securitisation of border controls in Europe, alongside groups lobbying in favour of corporate interests such as the Aerospace and Defence (ASD) association and the Security Defence Agenda (SDA), a Brussels based think tank that provides a platform for the meeting of EU institutions and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) with government officials and representatives of industry, international and specialised media, think-tanks, academia and NGOs.

A new provision will now allow the agency the option of acquiring equipment directly, and this could turn it from a talking participant into a customer. The new regulation No: 2010/0039, which IPS has read, confirms the militarisation of border surveillance and migration control.

It gives Frontex the capacity to collect and process personal data of suspects for involvement in illicit border activities, acquire equipment for border surveillance, integrate common core curricula in the training of national border guards and to develop and operate a system for exchanging classified information.

The regulation envisages an “increasing role in research and development for the control and surveillance of external borders,” which would make the agency a key player between the European institutional apparatus and the emerging European homeland security industry.

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