England continues its headlong rush into authoritarianism

Migrants who have been convicted of a criminal offence will be required to scan their faces up to five times a day using smartwatches installed with facial recognition technology under plans from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice.

In May, the government awarded a contract to the British technology company Buddi Limited to deliver “non-fitted devices” to monitor “specific cohorts” as part of the Home Office Satellite Tracking Service. The scheme is due to be introduced from the autumn across the UK, at an initial cost of £6m.

Yes, Gentle Readers, that is exactly what it sounds like. The United Kingdom will be forcing migrants to wear surveillance computers, and scan their faces on demand, wherever they are. This means that these people will have no right to privacy, and likely no right to even know what kinds of data their mandatory surveillance equipment will be collecting.

The Home Office says the smartwatch scheme will be for foreign-national offenders who have been convicted of a criminal offence, rather than other groups, such as asylum seekers.

However, it is expected that those obliged to wear the smartwatches will be subject to similar conditions to those fitted with GPS ankle tags, with references in the DPIA to curfews and inclusion and exclusion zones.

In a National Audit Office report in June, the government said it “regards electronic monitoring as a cost-effective alternative to custody, which contributes to its goals to protect the public and reduce reoffending”.

Campaigners say 24-hour surveillance of asylum seekers breaches human rights, and may have a detrimental impact on migrants’ health and wellbeing.

Ya think?

When I was in Cuba, there were a couple points where it was made clear to our small group of U.S.ians that the government was keeping an eye on us. They seemed to know our itinerary before we did some days, and would be expecting us at checkpoints. That was not a comfortable experience, but it didn’t feel like I was always being watched. When I was in Tanzania, I was taken completely by surprise when I found myself exhausted by just constantly being seen. I stood out, which meant there was always someone paying attention to what I was doing. Even on a mountainside, far away from anyone else, I could hear a kid on the adjacent mountain spot me and yell, “Mzungu!”. It was strangely draining, and I expect is something that people who aren’t white men have to deal with a whole lot more.

So I can only imagine the strain that would come from wearing a modern surveillance device, with a camera, everywhere you go. Not only that, but in addition to the government, a private, for-profit corporation will also be watching, and if you ever take off that device, you will be punished.

Lucie Audibert, a lawyer and legal officer for Privacy International, said: “Facial recognition is known to be an imperfect and dangerous technology that tends to discriminate against people of colour and marginalised communities. These ‘innovations’ in policing and surveillance are often driven by private companies, who profit from governments’ race towards total surveillance and control of populations.

“Through their opaque technologies and algorithms, they facilitate government discrimination and human rights abuses without any accountability. No other country in Europe has deployed this dehumanising and invasive technology against migrants.”

Dr Monish Bhatia, a lecturer in criminology at Birkbeck, University of London, said: “Electronic monitoring is an intrusive technology of control. Some individuals develop symptoms of anxiety, depression, suicide ideation and overall deterioration of mental health.

“The Home Office is still not clear how long individuals will remain on monitoring. They have not provided any evidence to show why electronic monitoring is necessary or demonstrated that tags make individuals comply with immigration rules better. What we need is humane, non-degrading, community-based solutions.”

That would be nice.

Instead, we get invasive surveillance, and the threat that, regardless of where you might be from, if the U.K. government decides to be rid of you, they’ll just ship you to Rwanda:

The two final candidates in the race to become the UK’s new prime minister, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, have both vowed to expand the government’s controversial Rwanda immigration policy.

Former finance minister Rishi Sunak announced his plans to tackle illegal immigration in a nearly 5-minute video posted on Twitter Sunday, during which he said that the UK had lost control of its borders.

“Every year thousands and thousands of people come into the UK illegally. Often, we don’t know who they are, where they’re from, and why they’re here. These are not bad people. But it makes a mockery of our system and in the current chaotic free world there is simply no way for a serious country to run itself,” Sunak said in the video.

The measures he proposes include a cap set annually by the UK parliament on “number of refugees we accept each year via safe and legal routes, amendable in the face of emergencies,” according to the plan published on Sunak’s campaign website.

He also put forward a measure making “aid, trade, and visas conditional on a country’s willingness to cooperate on returns” of migrants who have illegally entered the UK.

Make no mistake – closed borders are the same as a wall. They are used to keep some people in, and other people out, and the United States is far from the only country planning to respond to climate change with escalating authoritarianism, and decreasing regard for human life, let alone the right to anything like dignity, privacy, or freedom of movement. As in the U.S., it seems like there is no real limit to how far they will go to keep people “in their place”.

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  1. John Morales says

    The United Kingdom will be forcing migrants to wear surveillance computers, and scan their faces on demand, wherever they are.

    Ahem: “Migrants who have been convicted of a criminal offence”, not migrants in general. You even quoted that, before misrepresenting it.

  2. John Morales says

    So I can only imagine the strain that would come from wearing a modern surveillance device, with a camera, everywhere you go.

    Me too, since it’s never happened to me.

    But, you know, one could have long sleeves.
    The camera will show the inside of the sleeve.

    (Though maybe it would slip when one is wiping one’s bum after defecating…)

  3. sonofrojblake says

    I hate to say it, but John Morales is right. I don’t have any particular problem with making foreign criminals feel extremely unwelcome in this country, because, well, they’re NOT welcome in this country. Fuck ’em, frankly. It’s a scandal, IMO, that they’re even allowed to stay rather than being immediately deported upon release. Google Learco Chindamo for an excellent advert for taking foreign criminals straight from prison to a plane.

    Another point: do remember that this country is in the febrile throes of a Conservative leadership election which will allow the tiny minority of evil shits in this country who pay to be members of the party to decide for the rest of us who gets to be our Prime Minister. Typically during such a time all sorts of nonsense ideas are tossed out as red meat to the base, with no actual intention of ever trying to implement them.

    Furthermore, since this is by definition an IT project, you can more or less guarantee that even if the bastards try to implement it, it won’t work.

  4. says

    I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that it’s the two of you.

    First off, I’ll give a shit about England’s immigration laws when they give back every cent they’ve stolen to every country they stole it from. Until then every country they colonized should have free movement across England’s borders.

    Second, I’ll be charitable and assume that you somehow both missed the efforts to make it easier to criminalize people for protesting “wrongly” in the UK. Maybe you also missed the ways in which racism has influenced how the UK decides what immigrants are “criminals”?

    A new leaked Home Office document, which was never intended to be seen by the public, spells this out. The report, which was commissioned by the Home Office in the wake of the Windrush scandal, was leaked to the Guardian after repeated attempts by the government to suppress its publication. It has a stark conclusion: that the origins of the “deep-rooted racism of the Windrush scandal” lie in the fact that “during the period 1950-1981, every single piece of immigration or citizenship legislation was designed at least in part to reduce the number of people with black or brown skin who were permitted to live and work in the UK”.

    This was true whichever political party was in power. Who can forget the red mug marketed by the Labour party in 2015 emblazoned with the words “Controls on immigration”? The problem was not the mug, but the fact that cracking down on immigration was one of our election promises at all.

    It was the 1962 Commonwealth Immigrants Act that for the first time brought restrictions on the entry of Commonwealth citizens into the UK. Before this, there had been freedom of movement for all citizens of the United Kingdom and its colonies.

    And your rebuttal is “if they’re criminal they deserve it”, and “it’ll be super buggy so who cares”?

    All I’m really getting from you is that you don’t care about this because you don’t care about the people who it affects. As far as you’re concerned, once the government slaps the label “criminal” on someone, they don’t get rights?

    You can fuck right off with that.

  5. KG says

    John Morales@2, sonofrojblake@3,
    OK, you’re right that at present, this is only planned for migrants who have a criminal conviction (which could be for something relatively trivial, and specifically, for an immigration offence), but once this is introduced for the easiest target group, do you really suppose it won’t be extended when politically convenient?

    The United Kingdom will be forcing migrants to wear surveillance computers, and scan their faces on demand – Abe Drayton

    Yes, the plan is to introduce this across the UK, so why is your headline:

    England continues its headlong rush into authoritarianism

    [emphasis added]?
    It’s really not that difficult: the UK consists of England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. And the distinction matters: some laws, and some governmental actions, apply to the whole of the UK, like this one; some don’t. If you’re going to comment on UK issues – and there’s absolutely no reason you shouldn’t – you need to get this rather elementary matter right.

  6. says

    @KG I’m aware. I lived in Scotland for a year and a half and I currently live in the Republic of Ireland.

    It’s political commentary. Things happen in the UK because England wants them to. That was very clear living in Scotland from 2019 to 2021. So yes. I specify England because the way the UK is set up, nobody else gets much of a say, and I’m pretty sure Scotland wouldn’t have chosen this for themselves any more than they chose to leave the EU.

    So yes. This will be imposed across the UK, but it’s being done primarily because England wants it to be done.

  7. John Morales says


    … but once this is introduced for the easiest target group, do you really suppose it won’t be extended when politically convenient?

    Oh, I have no illusions about that.
    I see the UK already wants to copy Australia’s “pacific solution”, one I personally consider stupid, immoral and expensive. But it plays to xenophobia.

    Mind you, I suspect the current administration (in power for what, a decade or so?) is very much on the nose, and might follow Australia’s example in that aspect too.

    My point was really very, very simple.

    When one quotes a claim to the effect that “all X with attribute A” will be affected, it’s misleading to summarise the claim as “all X” will be affected.

    (And, of course, anyone who routinely carries a smartphone with them is quite literally already “wearing a modern surveillance device, with a camera, everywhere [they] go”)

  8. says

    That surveillance is also a problem, as corporations cooperating with governments has shown. It is, however, difference from a government-mandated recording device that’s illegal not to wear.

    And I think it’s misleading to equate the two, just as it’s misleading to look at the implications of something like this without considering the broader trend, and the bigoted politics surrounding it.

  9. John Morales says


    And I think it’s misleading to equate the two

    It would be, were I doing so.

    I wasn’t equating them, I was just noting all mobile phones know where they are, all mobile phones have front and back cameras, all mobile phones have microphones. And they all run on software; they can certainly run stuff in the background without the owner knowing.

    One trusts they don’t, but they most certainly can, and the only thing a user would notice is rapid battery discharge, since every other indicator can be spoofed.

    (I know damn well most people don’t think of their phones that way)

  10. says

    “The Home Office is still not clear how long individuals will remain on monitoring. They have not provided any evidence to show why electronic monitoring is necessary or demonstrated that tags make individuals comply with immigration rules better.

    Why do they need “smartwatches” to monitor people’s faces? To catch them jacking off? That’s not just creepy, it’s silly.

    The only reason I can think of, is that the convicted persons are being given wrist monitors instead of ankle monitors, and the former can be removed, so the IT geniuses compensate for that by making the wearer scan their face often, to ensure the right people are keeping their monitors on. But still, ankle-monitors make more sense.

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