For 10 years now, the UK Home Office’s policy has treated migrants as people who do not deserve the same fundamental rights as other individuals, especially their right to privacy.
The name of the policy says it all: through inhumane and tyrannical practices, people were and are meant to be discouraged from entering the UK, or encouraged to leave. But the past decade has also been one of resistance – resistance from those subjected to the arbitrary whims of the Department of the Interior, and from communities and organizations denouncing and challenging the arbitrary seizures of cell phones, the collection of country of birth data in schools across England, or the sharing of crime victim data between the police and the Home Office.
In the same week as that of the first deportation flight to Rwanda exporting this hostile environment, organizations across the UK are resisting these 10 years of brutal hostility that builds on further decades of oppression against migrants.
To enforce this policy and strengthen the hostile grip, surveillance and control measures were put in place, measures showing that the British government does not consider migrants – even those who came to the UK a generation ago – as people deserving of the same human rights protection as others. .
One such surveillance measure is the rollout of GPS ankle tagging of migrants released on bail – a tracking system that collects location data 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Do you know Google Maps? It’s the same, except that location data is collected here by the government for punitive surveillance purposes, rather than to guide you around town.
GPS location can reveal deeply intimate and sensitive details of one’s life – trips to the abortion clinic, gay bar, anarchist bookstore, synagogue, church or mosque, strip club, etc. This is a profound change in migrant surveillance, which previously relied on “radio frequency tags,” which simply measure the distance between the tag and a base station placed in the subject’s home. Does the Department of the Interior need all of this additional location data to verify bail compliance? No. Does it use it for all sorts of other criminal reasons? Yes.
The purported primary purpose of this massive expansion of surveillance powers is to better monitor bail violations and absconding. But the number of people in hiding is extremely low and stable: in 2020, only 1 percent of people released from immigration detention tried to go into hiding. Data obtained by Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) shows that of those released on bail from February 2020 to March 2021 (of which there were more than 7,000), only 43 people went into hiding – less than 0.56 percent.
Individuals coming to the UK do not need a compulsive incentive to meet their bail conditions. Ninety-nine percent will suffice anyway. These new powers are therefore draconian and hugely disproportionate.
In addition, the Department of the Interior has granted itself the right — without any legal basis, only through internal policies — to use location data collected through GPS tags to make decisions about individuals’ asylum and immigration applications. That is a breathtaking power. It means that any move a tagged individual makes can be used against them to deny their claim to established private and family life in the UK.
Take a look at your location history from the past year – can you justify and explain all this? In the words of Cardinal Richelieu, “If you give me six lines, written by the hand of the most honest of men, I will find in them something that will hang it.” This is clear abuse of power, with great potential for violation of human rights law – not only privacy rights, but also freedom of association, movement and expression, as people know that their daily activities can be used now or in the future to judge whether they deserve to build a life here or if they are unfit for our precious and orderly land.
GPS tagging also affects people’s mental health, family relationships, and many parts of the minute details of how a person chooses to live their life. People report that ankle tags affect how they dress, where they go and what they do, their prayers and how they care for their children. Many report feeling stigmatized and constantly aware of the judgmental looks of others. Despite medical advice to the contrary, vulnerable people, including torture survivors, are tagged. In the words of someone who has to wear one: “Sometimes I feel even more isolated, I just want to isolate myself. I’m on this tag and then my anxiety kicks in. Sometimes I don’t even want to be around people because I the only one on it.’
There’s also some evidence that many of the tags suffer from malfunctions that drain their batteries every few hours – so people have to stick themselves into a wall several times a day to avoid the fear-inducing vibrations and red flashes of light the tag creates while using the tag. running low battery. Worse, a tag that’s almost empty can violate bail conditions, resulting in civil or criminal penalties or shattering their immigration record — just because the technology deployed to spy on them is flawed.
Our fear is that in 2032 we will mark 20 years of hostile environment, with new technical “solutions” for migration that further dehumanize people – such as facial recognition in border surveillance, smartwatches for location surveillance and dynamic risk assessments for visa applicants – reducing their stories, their experiences , their traumas, to thousands of data points that tell the Department of the Interior only the story they want to hear.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.