The changing border: developments and risks in border control management of Western countries

Date01 June 2010
Published date01 June 2010
AuthorBerry Tholen
Subject MatterArticles
Berry Tholen is assistant professor at the Public Administration Department, Radboud University,
The Netherlands.
© The authors, 2010. Reprints and Permissions:
Vol 76(2):259–278 [DOI:10.1177/0020852309365673]
Review of
The changing border: developments and risks in border
control management of Western countries
Berry Tholen
In recent decades we have witnessed the development of a new type of migra-
tion regulation and border control in Europe, North America and Australia. In this
new system of controls, the focus is less on the physical crossing of territorial
borders and more on the process as a whole; from airline reservations, ticketing
and visa applications to monitoring individuals after arriving in the country of des-
tination. The developing mode of border control encompasses a multiplication of
borders, a multiplication of actors and a multiplication of data and technology. The
question arises: Does the new form of border management in Western countries
bring forward the aims of border control more effectively and does it entail new
risks (for visitors/migrants)? In this article I will first outline a normative framework
for evaluating current developments in border control, building on studies in politi-
cal theory and the philosophy of law. I then substantiate my claim that a new type
of border control is developing and present an overview of three interconnected
multiplications. Next, using findings from empirical and legal studies, (likely) con-
sequences of the multiplications will be presented. Linking these consequences
to the normative framework allows us, finally, to point out risks of the currently
developing system of border control.
Points for practitioners
In recent decades Western countries have introduced new measures of border con-
trol, including new technologies and new types of agents in new roles. Together,
these new measures make for a new type of global border control management.
Our evaluation of this development shows that it entails new types of risks, and
that these risks are likely to increase if this type of management develops further
260 International Review of Administrative Sciences 76(2)
along the same lines. This analysis calls for a reorientation on instruments of border
control leading to a more encompassing type of risk management in this field.
Keywords: e-government, evaluation, implementation, international
administration, networks
1. Introduction1
In recent years, governments in Europe, North America and Australia have introduced
new instruments for border control. Newspaper readers in Europe learned, for exam-
ple, about the establishment of Frontex, a European Agency created for operational
coordination at the external borders of the E U. In the USA the increases in budgets
and staff of border control units on the Mexican border are regularly in the news. In
Australia the agreements with island states like Nauru to take care of asylum seekers
have gained attention. These measures appear to be quite different in nature. Each,
moreover, seems to be related to typical regional circumstances: the ongoing integra-
tion of EU member states in Europe, and the typical geographical challenges in North
America and Oceania.
Frequent travellers, however, might have witnessed similar developments across
regions as well, primarily in the use of new technologies for identification. In the UK
the program using these new devices is called e-Border; in Australia one encounters
SmartGate, ePassports and eVisitor; and the US Department of Homeland Security
invites one to use US -VISIT. The names are different, but they are all essentially the
same in form and function.
The first claim this article wants to make is that the seemingly differing measures
mentioned first are as much examples of similar developments as are the latter. In all
three regions new instruments of border control have been introduced over the last
two decades, and together these developments intensify border control. The focus in
this new type of control is less on the actual crossing of territorial borders and more
on the entire process as a whole, from airline reservations and ticketing and visa
applications to monitoring after arrival. The shift towards the new border manage-
ment seems to entail a number of multiplications. As controlling at territorial borders
is increasingly combined with a system of checks before and during travel and after
arrival, the appropriate model no longer seems to be that of a single border-post. The
image of concentric circles is much more accurate. In the new system , furthermore,
existing agencies are given new tasks, new agencies are established and new types
of actors are involved in the implementation (national and international agencies,
private actors and third countries). In this developing mode of border control the
demand for (smart) information has increased and led to the introduction of new
technology and information systems. In sum, the developing mode of border control
has resulted in a multiplication of borders, a multiplication of actors and a multiplica-
tion of data and technology.
An important motive that is given by the authorities for these developments is the
large and ever increasing number of travellers they have to handle. The total number
of overseas arrivals to and departures from Australia are well over 20 million annually.2
Air transport in the EU alone amounted to 800 million passengers in 2004, increasing

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