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Rights that trump: Surveillance-based migration governance and a substantial right to mobility

Elin Palm (Centre for Applied Ethics, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden)

Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society

ISSN: 1477-996X

Article publication date: 25 November 2013




This paper aims to deal with an increasing securitization and criminalisation of migration in Europe highlighting ethical implications of the current surveillance-based EU migration governance. It is shown that EU member states employ surveillance regimes to control movements across borders and to restrict migrants' access to their territories. The ethical acceptability of such practices is questioned with a particular focus on the “freedom of movement”.


In order to establish the extent to which the current EU migration governance can be considered ethically justifiable, the article starts out from the right to mobility as coded in the UN Declaration of Human Rights. It is shown that the current migration governance obstructs the rights specified in Articles 13 and 14. At the same time, shortcomings of the UN declaration are discussed and the need for a better protection of the freedom of movement is suggested.


It is established that human rights are such that promote normative agency and a type of rights that trump, for example, states interests in restricting access to their territories do not outweigh individuals rights to seek asylum. In order to make this relation more clear however, the right to mobility should be made symmetric, including both a right to leave and to enter (but not a right to immigrate and settle). An extensive right to freedom of movement is advocated based on the significance of mobility for normative agency. A substantial right to mobility supports the right to seek asylum.


As of yet, ethical implications of surveillance-based border control are under-researched.



Palm, E. (2013), "Rights that trump: Surveillance-based migration governance and a substantial right to mobility", Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol. 11 No. 4, pp. 196-209.



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