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The Burden of Data: Digital tools, evidence and credibility in asylum and immigration courts

This new report delves into the shifting landscape of asylum proceedings and the intricate role digital technologies play in the lives of migrants. The report draws findings from 916 appeals at the Upper Tribunal of the Immigration and Asylum Chamber (UTIAC) that between 2007-2022 mentioned one or more of 16 digital platforms. As the use of digital evidence becomes increasingly pivotal in protection claims, we shed light on the challenges migrants face and propose a set of recommendations for a fairer and more equitable system.

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Lobo Aradau The burden of data report
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Key Findings

Digital Challenges: Migrants are compelled to use digital technologies, raising concerns about adverse effects on the quality of the procedure, potential obstacles due to IT illiteracy, and broader issues related to data protection and privacy rights;

Platform Power: The dominance of big tech conglomerates underscores the impact of these platforms on asylum appeals: Meta-owned Facebook, WhatsApp and Instagram are mentioned in 550, 163 and 38 decisions, respectively;

Gender Dynamics: The report highlights gendered uses of social media platforms, with appeals based on gender-based violence and family/private life demonstrating a higher representation of female applicants.

Digital Justice: Challenges concerning the use of digital data to evidence protection claims include issues related to online surveillance, digital affordance awareness, account deletion and data acquisition (including post-hearing internet research), which impact the fairness and transparency of legal proceedings.

The burden of data: The 'burden of proof' in asylum proceedings intersects with affective labour on social media, as asylum seekers must substantiate their claims with credible evidence. Acknowledging the broader implications of mobilising digital data requires understanding it as an outcome of reproducing social relations in the digital economy and its algorithmic entanglements.


For Tribunals: Acknowledge the nuanced nature of digital evidence, understanding its unique aspects in the digital circulation and surveillance; Implement best practices that consider diverse online cultures of use and life experiences of migrants specific to their states.

For NGOs supporting migrants: Safeguard asylum seekers against unwarranted online surveillance; Advocate for a nuanced understanding of what counts as admissible evidence, reflecting that digital practices on diverse cultural, legal, and societal norms; Ensure the right to asylum is not contingent upon altering online presence and providing support for the affective labour on social media; Engage in collaborative efforts to actively monitor court actions related to digital evidence in asylum procedures.

For Migrants: Seek guidance from NGOs and legal representatives to address challenges of collecting evidence, collaborate closely with legal representatives to ensure ethical data practices, and make informed decisions about social media deletion for privacy and rights.

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