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UK legal charity decries use of biometric immigrant monitoring devices

UK legal charity decries use of biometric immigrant monitoring devices

The UK has been expanding the use of biometric electronic monitoring devices for immigration bail cases, a practice that has drawn criticism from non-governmental organizations that describe the practice as invasive.

Last year, the country increased the use of GPS electronic monitoring devices as a bail condition by 56 percent, according to a report by London-based legal charity Public Law Project. This includes both fitted devices such as ankle monitors and non-fitted devices which request periodic biometric verification from the user through a fingerprint scanner.

Unlike ankle monitors which cannot be removed from the body, non-fitted devices fit in the palm and alert the user with vibration and sound several times a day to scan their fingerprint. The device then compares this fingerprint to its database, verifying that the electronic monitoring bail conditions are met. The device does not store an image of the fingerprint.

Between January and November 2023, over 540 people were assigned non-fitted devices as a part of an electronic monitoring bail condition. In comparison, over 3,300 people were subjected to fitted devices, according to data gathered by the Public Law Project and other organizations through interviews and public information requests.

The charity warns that an increasing number of immigration bail cases are assigned GPS electronic monitoring devices of both kinds: While 2022 saw over 2,600 people tagged, last year this number jumped to over 4,100.

While biometric, non-fitted devices were initially chosen by the Home Office because of the stigma involved with visible ankle tags, the Public Law Project argues that non-fitted devices can be equally damaging. The organization added that the rate of absconding bail in immigration cases is exceptionally low.

“They are less physically invasive than fitted devices but nevertheless prevent people from carrying out their everyday activities and create a pervasive sense of constant alertness which can be detrimental to mental wellbeing,” the organization writes in the report.

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