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Research published today, 31October 2022, shows that migrants fitted with GPS tags experience significant psychological and physical suffering, despite no clear explanation or evidence from the Home Office that tagging is necessary or cost effective.

Over 2,000 people on immigration bail are currently made to wear the GPS tags 24 hours a day, indefinitely, with cases often taking years to close. The latest figures show only 1.3% of people released from immigration detention absconded in the first six months of 2022.

GPS tagging collects more intrusive data than other electronic tagging, and the Home Office is able to access an individual’s ‘trail’ data in a wide range of circumstances. This includes if they make an immigration application involving the right to a family life under Article 8 of the ECHR.

With first-hand testimony from migrants who have been tagged and clinicians who work with them, Every move you make: the human impact of GPS tagging in immigration system finds that: 

  • Wearers of GPS tags experience anxiety, stress, discomfort, and pain. 
  • Many wearers said they had no idea how to challenge the decision to tag them or indeed how their data was being used by the Home Office.
  • People have been tagged despite the Home Office being aware of poor mental health or psychiatric conditions and their previous experience of trauma. 
  • Tagged individuals have reported increased feelings of social stigmatisation, isolation and avoidance of public spaces and activities. 
  • Tags affect every aspect of people’s daily life and routine, including the ability to exercise, sleep, work, have relationships and care for their children.
  • The tags are used alongside strict requirements to report to the Home Office on a regular basis.
  • There are a range of practical problems with the tags themselves, including devices failing or chargers not working.

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Annie Viswanathan, BID’s Director, said:

“We work with many people who, after the ordeal of immigration detention, are forced to wear an ankle tag fitted with GPS technology to record their every move. This substitutes one form of imprisonment for another. As we have documented in this report, the people we spoke to felt profoundly dehumanised and degraded by this intense form of surveillance and had suffered a wide range of harms as a result. Meanwhile the Home Office is quietly harvesting immense volumes of highly sensitive location data that it will use against people in their immigration claims. 

GPS tagging, like so much immigration policy in recent years, seeks to insert borders and immigration controls into homes, families and communities across the UK. This draconian form of surveillance has no place in 21st century Britain.”

Jo Hynes, Research Fellow at Public Law Project said

“These findings uncover a deeply harmful and inhumane system placing unnecessary restrictions on a group of people who are already more likely to be experiencing physical or mental strain.

“The latest figures show that only 1.3% of people released from detention absconded in the first six months of 2022. Without clear justification for the practice, we are calling for the Home Office to stop their use of electronic tagging of those on immigration bail. Until then, the use of electronic tagging must adopt far more robust and transparent guidelines, with respect for the rights of the wearer embedded in the practice.

“Where tagging is used in the criminal justice system, it comes with a host of safeguards. But when it comes to the immigration context, these safeguards have not yet been transferred. As a result, GPS tagging is experienced by many as a continuation of the loss of liberty of immigration detention, but with additional personal data protection concerns.”

Public Law Project, Bail for Immigration Detainees, and Medical Justice are urging for the practice to be ended altogether, and for essential safeguards to be implemented until then, including:

  • Introducing a strict time limit to the use of GPS tagging.
  • Ending the use of mandatory electronic monitoring.
  • Allowing and empowering the First-tier Tribunal (Immigration and Asylum Chamber) to decide whether or not electronic monitoring should be imposed as a bail condition.
  • Setting strict limits on the processing of data obtained via GPS monitoring, so it can only be processed for the purpose of determining whether an individual has breached bail conditions. 
  • Ensuring electronic monitoring does not interfere with an individual’s rehabilitation, nor be used when an individual has been identified as vulnerable.
  • Providing clear and accessible legal routes to migrants to request removal of their tag.

Those interviewed for the report said the following of their experience of GPS tagging:

“It’s a torture, it’s a torture. I don’t even know how to put it into words. After all the detention and all that they say that’s not enough, you know you have to be on a monitor for life. What for?...

“I just feel like I’m held over a barrel of fear and intimidation of not really knowing what my rights are.”

“The portable one, it’s not working... So, when I need to charge it, I have to literally plug it into an extension, lie down on the bed… with it plugged in my leg"

“I tried to volunteer at a charity shop, he just looked at my ankle monitor and asked me, “What is that?”... In his mind he already wrote me off. The other job, I had an interview and such but they didn’t contact me back because of the tag on my ankle”

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Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID) is a registered Charity No. 1077187. Registered in England as a Limited Company No. 03803669. Accredited by the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner Ref. No. N200100147. We are a member of the Fundraising Regulator, committed to best practice in fundraising and follow the standards for fundraising as set out in the Code of Fundraising Practice.
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