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Government's plans to strap migrants with facial recognition smartwatches slammed

Liberty says it's no surprise this government would deploy such a tactic ‘as part of its racist hostile environment’

GOVERNMENT plans for round-the-clock monitoring of migrants convicted of crimes through the use of facial recognition smartwatches are “excessive and unnecessary,” civil rights groups have said. 

Those required to wear the devices under plans due to be rolled out by the Home Office and Ministry of Justice this autumn will have to take five photographs of themselves every day on a smartwatch installed with facial recognition software. 

According to the Guardian, Home Office documents say the scheme will involve “daily monitoring of individuals subject to immigration control,” with a requirement to wear either a fitted ankle tag or a smartwatch at all times.

These photos will be cross-checked against biometric facial images on Home Office systems, while their location will be tracked “24/7, allowing trail monitoring data to be recorded,” the Guardian reported yesterday. If the check fails, it must be performed manually. 

The contract for the scheme has been awarded to British technology firm Buddie. 

Civil rights groups have condemned the plans, describing facial recognition software as a “discriminatory surveillance tool” that could lead to migrants being penalised for mistakes in the software. 

They also warned that round-the-clock surveillance is likely to have a harmful impact on the mental health of vulnerable people. 

Liberty head of policy and campaigners Sam Grant said: “This expansion of mass surveillance tools has no place on the streets of a rights-respecting democracy. 

“The use of surveillance technology impacts us all but will always have a greater impact on marginalised groups. It is no surprise then that this government would deploy facial recognition as part of its racist hostile environment. 

“It is impossible to regulate for the dangers created by a technology that is oppressive by design. The safest, and only, thing to do with facial recognition is to ban it.”

Open Rights Group, which campaigns for privacy, warned that the “excessive and unnecessary” scheme could lead to people being wrongly penalised because of faults in the technology. 

“The fact that facial recognition technologies are frequently discriminatory and inaccurate, alongside the hostility to human rights from this government, should make us extremely concerned,” said the group’s executive director Jim Killiock. 

“Abuses will inevitably follow, such as claims that participants failed to comply, when the technology and scheme itself are at fault.”

The Home Office said the smartwatch devices would not be imposed on asylum-seekers who cross the Channel. 

But Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants advocacy director Zehrar Hasan warned that the “terrifying plans” would cause “untold harm to migrant communities and promote racism against people of colour.”

News of the new scheme comes after the Home Office rolled out GPS tags last year to monitor people on immigration bail, despite warnings from dozens of human rights groups about the impact on privacy rights. 

Those affected by the smartwatch and GPS tag schemes are people at risk of deportation following a criminal conviction punishable by a 12-month prison sentence. 

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