Between algorithmic and analogue harms: the case of automation in Finnish Immigration Services

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Hanna Maria MalikUniversity of Turku, Finland

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Nea LepinkäinenUniversity of Turku, Finland

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In this paper, we take the management crisis in the Finnish Immigration Service, Migri, as an example to illustrate ambiguous qualities of automated decision making in the context of the production and alleviation of social harm. The case lies at the crossroads of political and legal discussions on immigration and artificial intelligence (AI) transformation. As a result of the persistent backlog of cases held by Migri for processing, since the ‘refugee crisis’ of 2015, numerous asylum seekers remain in a state of bureaucratic limbo. Automating part of the decision-making process offered a potential solution to the harms caused by prolonged processing; however, it was hampered by features of the Finnish constitutional system. The applicants most likely avoided the potential algorithmic harms of prematurely implemented automated systems. However, possible algorithmic solutions to preexisting analogue harms have also been prevented. Through the analysis of policy and legal documents related to immigration and automation, we show that the disconnect between distinct political priorities leaves a variety of harms unaccounted for and may cause fractures in the Finnish harm reduction regime. Given that the development of algorithmic systems is subject to a constant struggle between contradictory values and expectations placed on these systems in terms of the alleviation of harm(s), we argue that a holistic view of harms and solutions to these harms in digitalised societies may facilitate the harm reduction potential of algorithmic systems.

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Hanna Maria MalikUniversity of Turku, Finland

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Nea LepinkäinenUniversity of Turku, Finland

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