UK border surveillance regime highly privatised, says Privacy International

by Jeremy

Private technology firms involved in developing and maintaining a range of digital surveillance tools for the UK’s immigration authorities are rarely scrutinized or held accountable for their involvement in the border regime, according to civil liberties campaign group Privacy International (PI). The UK’s privatized migration surveillance regime report published by PI, which analyzed the role dozens of private technology firms play in the UK’s border regime, stated that the close-knit relationship between immigration authorities and the technology sector means “UK authorities can call on intrusive surveillance powers matching those of anyone else in the world”.

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On the front end, this includes tools such as mobile phone extraction devices, which are used to analyze migrants’ metadata and access their GPS location history; aerial surveillance drones to patrol the Channel; and mobile biometric scanning devices that are able rapidly to identify people and check their immigration status – all of which are provided by private companies. The capabilities of these front-end tools and many others are supported by several back-end systems used by various agencies across the UK’s immigration control regime “to process immigration data, track people through the borders…or which are relevant because they enable forms of surveillance”.

This includes the Home Office Biometrics (HOB) database currently in development, and the existing Case Information Database (CID) used to record personal details of all foreign nationals who pass through the immigration system.

These are again supported by several private technology companies and hold a diverse range of data, including biometrics such as DNA and fingerprints, travel histories information, and various metadata from phones or Wi-Fi networks. THE REPORT NOTED THAT the UK’s immigration authorities also buy data from data brokers such as GB Group or Experian, which “trade on the information of millions of people and build intricate profiles about our lives”.

However, the report, which is based entirely on open-source information, noted that “many of the key actors involved are resistant to transparency” and that the general secrecy surrounding the Home Office’s technology ecosystem means the companies involved “enjoy minimal scrutiny and are seldom held accountable”.

Some 39 technology firms are named in the report, including IBM, Accenture, BAE Systems, Elbit Systems, Palantir, Deloitte Digital, Fujitsu, Northrop Grumman, Thales, Tekever, Cognizant, and Leidos.

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