The UK’s Privatised Migration Surveillance Regime: A Rough Guide for Civil Society
Privacy International has released a guide to how UK authorities track and monitor immigrants and the companies which profit.
- The report uses procurement, contractual, and other open-source data to outline the databases and surveillance tools used by UK migration and border authorities
- It also maps arms and tech companies making billions from Home Office contracts while often failing to deliver
- The report aims to increase civil society understanding of the surveillance tools and companies involved.
Privacy International has released a report summarising the result of its research into the databases and surveillance tools used by authorities across the UK’s borders, immigration, and citizenship system.
The report uses procurement, contractual, and other open-source data and aims to inform the work of civil society organisations and increase understanding of a vast yet highly opaque system upon which millions of people rely.
It also describes and maps how arms and tech companies, ranging from small surveillance firms to some of the largest companies in the world, have received billions of pounds to provide these systems and tools while often failing to deliver.
The first section briefly outlines the main departments and units involved. It then describes various databases which are used to track people through the migration system and which enable other forms of surveillance by law enforcement or immigration authorities, such as biometric scanning.
The following section then describes surveillance and tracking tools available to officers and agencies themselves, ranging from tools to monitor data on mobile phones, analyse wi-fi traffic, and record people covertly from cameras fitted in baby seats.
The report also describes how UK agencies work with international counterparts to share data and technology and provides a list of relevant resources of potential use to civil society organisations.
Why is it relevant?
The ability to police and ‘control’ the UK’s borders was a central issue for voters in the UK Brexit vote, and is once again headline news with coverage focusing on migration across the Channel.
Regular stories of the Home Office losing track of “foreigners” or having “no clue how many illegal immigrants there are” feed a notion that the UK’s immigration system is fundamentally ‘broken’.
Perceived and real failures of how the UK tracks people in the immigration system are vulnerable to simplification and dangerous rhetoric in part because of its opaqueness. Already managed and enforced by a confusing complex of government departments, agencies, infrastructure, and contractors, the situation is not helped by the fact that many of the key actors involved are resistant to transparency and that Brexit is demanding yet more changes.
There is no doubt there are severe problems at the Home Office, something recognized by numerous oversight bodies and inquiries. Windrush and the fact that people who rely on the asylum system are left waiting longer than ever are two examples.
But far from being powerless or weak, the reality is that the system is vast, with annual expenditure exceeding £2 billion. UK authorities are able to call on intrusive surveillance powers matching those of anyone else in the world. Immigration agencies are equipped with advanced tools of surveillance, and supplemented by a ‘hostile environment’ which extends the duty of controlling borders to landlords, employers, teachers, and doctors.
At the same time however, the Home Office has an abysmal record on delivering IT projects, with the effect that it fails to provide basic and vital services for people while continuing to award lucrative contracts to big arms and surveillance companies which enjoy minimal scrutiny and are seldom held accountable in the public discourse.
This guide to how UK authorities track and monitor immigrants and the companies which profit aims to increase civil society understanding of the surveillance tools and companies involved.