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Digital Borders

and the emergence of a digital migration system in Germany and Western Europe from the late 1960s to the early 21st century


The project by Lennart Schmidt examines the introduction of computers and databases in public authorities in West Germany and Western Europe from the late 1960s to the early 21st century. The focus is on the interplay between technological developments, societal and political discourses, and their impact on data protection policies and surveillance strategies. The core of the investigation is the computerization of West German security agencies, ministries, companies, and organizations starting in the late 1960s, in the shadow of the Cold War and rising tensions at the inner-German border. The gradual yet pervasive use of computer technology by the West German state in the 1970s provides a suitable starting point for exploring the interactions between social and technical developments as well as political discourses.


The study examines how computers and databases were integrated into West German police and intelligence services to establish a digital border in addition to the existing physical border regimes. The project aims to understand the socio-political context that shaped the design of databases such as the Central Register of Foreigners (AZR) in West Germany. By tracking the flow of data on migrants and foreigners between countries, the study also explores computerization in France and the United Kingdom. The study seeks to understand the prehistory of European migration databases such as Eurodac, the Schengen Information System (SIS II), and the Visa Information System (VIS).


In short, this project aims to analyze the complex relationships between social and technological change and the discourses accompanying these processes. These factors led to the emergence of digital borders and, later, smart borders, characterized by constant information flow between government agencies and border controls in Germany and Europe. By doing so, the project seeks to provide new insights into this transformative period in German and European history..