European border surveillance systems running a self-fulfilling circle

  • Pia Sombetzki
  • Jonas Quicker


"The background for storing information in the SIS is wide and discretionary, many items of information are evaluative, and 'discreet surveillance' quite clearly opens for political surveillance and surveillance of a wide circle of individuals around the main person."As early as 1999 Thomas Mathiesen drew this conclusion based on an analysis of the first generation Schengen Information System (SIS). We intend to take up this line of reasoning, and highlight the exclusionary mechanisms built into the EU's common asylum policy, enforced through the development of a "vast 'panoptical machine'", potentially being "the most repressive political instrument of modernity".Since 2013 a network of border surveillance systems is in place, grounded on the advanced and interlinked functions of the Second Generation of the internal border surveillance system SIS (SIS II) and the introduction of the external European Border Surveillance System (EUROSUR). Both systems have been designed to monitor the influx of individuals, such as economic migrants and asylum seekers. This has become a highly topical issue, as the dividing line between asylum seekers and "illegal" immigrants has become blurred. Both groups are perceived as threats by a growing segment of the public and by right wing political parties throughout Europe (Aradau, 2004; Huysmans & Squire, 2009). In this line Squire (2009) stresses the emergence of the notion of "asylum-seeker-cum-illegal-immigrant" (p.12). Accordingly, it is suggested that surveillance by EU systems leads to the exclusion of undocumented asylum seekers that become conflated with illegal immigrants and thereby are depicted as a threat to the Union's security. Against this background, this paper examines the question as to what degree the workings of EU surveillance systems foster this conflation of asylum with "illegal" immigration, in particular through a strengthened interoperability of the EU border surveillance systems, leading to an increasing exclusion of asylum seekers.