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Refugees using technology for their ‘digital passage’

Chances are you’re carrying around a smartphone and using it for all sorts of things including texting, checking email, finding a place to spend the night when traveling and navigation. For you it probably feels like a lifeline, but for refugees making the dangerous journey from Syria and other war torn countries to safer havens in Europe, it literally is a lifeline.

As Wired documented, “Many of these displaced people rely upon smartphones to find safe passage. Maps and GPS help chart the best course. Messaging apps provide a lifeline to loved ones. Apps of every kind help find a place to sleep, translate foreign languages, offer guidance on what to pack, and help manage money.”

For the most part, this is a positive aspect to an otherwise desperate situation, but, as Data and Society Fellow Mark Latonero points out, “The tools that underpin this passage provide many benefits, yet are also used to exploit refugees and raise questions about surveillance.”

In another essay, Latonero warns about surveillance. “The digital passage allows for numerous new ways to track refugees. Every text message, money transfer, social media login, and Wi-Fi connection generates data on refugees as well as smugglers.”