The Home Office has been blasted by more than 40 human rights’ groups after introducing 24-hour GPS monitoring of people on UK immigration bail. The move, which involved no consultation process, has been described as ‘an expansion of surveillance powers’ and ‘authoritarian’.
A report published by The Guardian, claims that the policy represents a shift from using radio frequency monitors, which alert authorities if a wearer leaves an assigned area, to round the clock GPS trackers, which detail an individual’s every move. The measure also gives the Home Office new powers to collect, store and access data indefinitely through a private contractor.
Rudy Schulkind, of Bail for Immigration Detainees, said: “This is effectively an extension of UK immigration detention beyond the physical walls of the detention centres and prisons. This regressive and authoritarian policy is wholly inappropriate in a country that claims to uphold the right to liberty.”
No formal announcement
Schulkind went on to say: “It’s no wonder that the government did not formally announce it and has tried to evade scrutiny.”
Those being fitted with GPS trackers are foreign nationals facing deportation following criminal convictions of 12 months or more. The process of selecting individuals to wear trackers is currently done on a discretionary basis.
However, the government is reportedly seeking a statutory instrument to make monitoring mandatory for thousands more people, regardless of the severity of their crimes or flight risk, sparking concerns over safeguarding.
Schulkind warned that: “Victims of human trafficking sometimes commit crimes as a result of their being trafficked, such as those enslaved on British cannabis farms, and face deportation and GPS tracking as a direct result.”
An open letter sent by Schulkind to Home Secretary, Priti Patel, with the rights group Liberty said that the government had given itself authority to use people’s data for reasons unrelated to bail, for example, to investigate UK immigration claims made under article 8 of the European convention on human rights, which protects private and family life.
Schulkind said: “This could mean that if someone is challenging their deportation because they have a child in the UK, the government can look through that person’s GPS data to see whether they visited their child enough times while being tracked.”
“It effectively gives the government carte blanche to use highly personal data for a fishing exercise, searching for reasons to reject an application.”
Meanwhile, Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer, Jun Pang, said: “Standing up for our human rights has and should never entitle the state to monitor our entire private life. This policy is unprecedented and has worrying implications for everyone’s ability to uphold their rights.”
Labour MP Bell Ribeiro-Addy, who is also the vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on immigration detention, said: “The Tories’ plan to introduce 24/7 GPS tracking for bailed immigration detainees is a Trojan horse which would grant the Home Office expansive new surveillance powers which would extend well beyond their stated purpose.”
“It sends a clear signal that the hostile environment is here to stay and gives us a glimpse of the new authoritarianism driving this government forward,” Riberio-Addy added.
Digital rights campaigning organisation, Open Rights Group, claimed that the introduction of GPS surveillance was part of a ‘coordinated attack’ on the privacy rights of refugees and asylum seekers in the UK.
Workpermit.com recently reported that Open Rights Group had won a case it had lodged against the Home Office on appeal, when a high court judge ruled that a UK immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act was unlawful.
The group’s immigration policy manager, Sahdya Darr said: “The pervasiveness of these measures speaks volumes about the need to ensure that migrants are in a position to exercise their data rights.”
Determination to deport
Meanwhile, a spokesperson for the Home Office said: “Foreign criminals who commit crimes should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them. GPS tracking is widely used across the criminal justice system and allows us to use the latest technology to maintain contact with offenders, deter absconding and prevent further crimes being committed.”
“It was a government manifesto commitment and the measure which enacts it was debated in parliament and passed into legislation. We make no apology for keeping the public safe and clamping down on those who have no right to be in the UK,” the spokesperson added.
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