Securing the Border with Data: Canada’s expanding digital frontier (principal investigator)

Funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (2022-2025).

This project is undertaken with co-investigators Dr Benjamin J. Muller and Dr Can E. Mutlu. Border security is increasingly dependent on data, algorithms, and digital devices. In Canada, customs kiosks in airports scan travellers’ faces and their biometric passports, artificial intelligence triages immigration applications, electronic travel authorizations are embedded into airlines’ check-in systems, and advance passenger information gives border officials intelligence on incoming travellers. These practices depend on the collection of large and diverse sets of data, and their processing through algorithmic tools that automate many aspects of border security. Such technologies appeal to politicians, policymakers, and security practitioners who wish to balance ease of mobility with national security. Efforts to ‘smarten’ borders accelerated after 9/11 through more secure travel documents and passenger screening. There has since been an exponential increase in the amount and variety of data gathered for border security, with advances in sensing and processing technologies. Many social and technical factors drive uptake of data in border security, such as policymakers’ visions of threats. Such technologies bear risks for the mobility rights associated with citizenship, and have ethical implications around race, personal data, and consent. This project examines Canada’s emerging data-driven border security tools, investigates the drivers and internal policy dynamics behind their adoption, and assess their impacts on mobility rights. Work Package 1 (WP1) examines the role of data and automated processes in travel and identity credentials for non-citizens, notably through the Electronic Travel Authorization (eTA). WP2 is on digital ‘traveller-centric’ identity management aimed principally at Canadian citizens, focusing on the Known Traveller Digital Identity (KTDI) for paperless transatlantic travel. WP3 will study how facial recognition and mobile app integration are enabled by digital customs kiosks in airports.

La Force conjointe du G5 Sahel à l’épreuve du terrorisme (co-investigator)

Funded by a SSHRC Insight Development Grant (2019-2021). Project extended to early 2023 due to Covid-19 pandemic impacts.

With Dr Moda Dieng (PI). Le Sahel est en proie à une insécurité croissante : terrorisme, conflits armés, conflits intercommunautaires, crime organisé. La Force conjointe du G5 Sahel (FCG5S), qui représente la dimension sécuritaire du G5 Sahel, est à la fois une nouvelle opportunité et un nouveau défi pour la sécurité au Sahel. Ce projet de recherche permet de saisir la façon dont la coopération militaire multilatérale contre le terrorisme s’opérationnalise en Afrique au niveau régional. Les États africains engagés dans la FCG5S n’ont pas les ressources qui leur permettent de mener des actions militaires et sécuritaires d’envergure et de longue durée. Cela favorise l’extension de la marge de manœuvre des acteurs extérieurs, dont le rôle risque de compromettre leur autonomie en matière d’action et de prise de décision. Il serait donc intéressant de voir comment la France et l’UE, les plus importants partenaires de la FCG5S, influencent la dynamique de coopération de cette force et les implications que cela engendre au niveau des modes d’appropriation des États africains de la lutte contre le terrorisme. Le projet combine à la fois recherche de terrain et recherche documentaire.


Hidden Narratives of Transnational Organised Crime in West Africa (co-investigator)

Funded by the UK Economic and Social Research Council (2019-2021). Project extended to end of 2022 due to Covid-19 pandemic impacts.

This project, alongside Dr Gernot Klantschnig (PI) and Dr Élodie Apard (co-I), asks whether crime of a transnational and organised form exists in West Africa, and investigates the understandings of it held by people on both sides of the line between crime and control. The project assumes that the ways criminal and state actors speak about and understand their roles, i.e. their ‘narratives’, provides a helpful entry point into a better understanding of the everyday reality of participating in and seeking to counter criminal activities. The project is built on the investigators’ observation that much of our understanding of transnational organised crime (TNOC) in West Africa is based on official reports, statistics and other largely detached assessments about this phenomenon. Using the cases of drug trafficking and people smuggling, the project seeks to uncover the ‘hidden narratives’ of TNOC in West Africa in order to better understand the practices around TNOC. The project asks three overarching research questions in this regard: (1) Is there such as thing as TNOC in West Africa? (2) What are the local narratives and understandings around it? And finally, (3) how useful are our conceptual tools for understanding TNOC in this regional context?

Security pluralism and the constitution of political authority in West Africa (principal investigator)

Funded by the Gerda Henkel Stiftung (2019-2020).

This project focuses on the role of non-state security providers in the Sahel region of West Africa — a key space in which the dynamic of ‘limited statehood’ plays out — and is oriented around three key objectives. First, it seeks to produce a typology of non-state security provision in West Africa in order to identify key drivers of it. Second, it seeks to understand the cultural registers of security deployed by non-state actors claiming to provide security. Third, the project will seek to understand the types of multiscalar political authority produced in situations of security pluralism. Empirically, the project takes a regional and case studyspecific view and mixes deskbased and fieldwork methods. The project will produce a typology based on literature review and analysis of conflict events data. The case study will focus on Burkina Faso, and more specifically the growth of the koglweogo local security groups. The project will draw on field trips to key towns and villages in which these groups have been active and combine interviews with group members with policy analysis and elite interviews.

Irregular migration and the politics of security in Niger: Thinking beyond Fortress Europe (principal investigator)

Funded by the British Academy (2016-2018).

This project examines the politics of security interventions in West Africa, focusing on efforts to stop irregular migration through Niger towards Europe. The project eschews the prevailing focus through which these have been understood — as an ever-expanding European frontier — to focus instead on the growing ambitions of European security interventions and their impacts on local governance. The project has two objectives: first to identify the contours of the transnational community of border security professionals in Niger, and second to determine to what degree border security projects work to reshape the very practices and institutions of the Nigérien state. The project will draw on fieldwork conducted in Niger over two trips, and at the EU, using this data to understand the relations of cooperation and conflict that underpin border security interventions. The project contributes to a thriving literature on the external facets of migration policy as well as to a growing concern in international relations with the transnational linkages around security interventions in Africa.

Policing Illicit Flows in West Africa (co-investigator)

Funded by the University of York’s Research Priming Fund (2016-2017).

This project, with Dr Gernot Klantschnig, investigates illicit flows in West Africa. These have been the subject of some research to date across the social sciences — whether it is on drug trafficking, irregular migration or money laundering. The project proposed here is innovative in that it enquires as to the politics and practices that arise in attempts to police these flows: how these issues are framed and responded to, and what types of social relationships, habits, and institutions arise. In pursuit of this line of enquiry, this research project seeks to carry out research scoping, build new collaboration links, and leverage these steps to put together a funding proposal for a multi-disciplinary collaborative research programme.

Europe, Migration, and the New Politics of (In)security (participant)

Funded by the White Rose University Consortium (2016-2017).

This project, led by Dr Alex Hall, has established a White Rose Consortium-led international research network to examine Europe’s ‘new’ politics of (in)security. More specifically, it focuses attention on what the claim to novelty allows governing bodies to do in the name of security: enrolling new actors in managing migration; authorising new surveillance technologies, constraining citizens’ freedoms and limiting migrant protection. The project interrogates the relationship between mobility and security in the contemporary crisis and asks how deep-seated social, economic and cultural divisions are being rearticulated.