The British government is preparing to adopt a new, controversial mechanism, which appears to be related to the control of criminally “convicted aliens”, and internally to combating the flow of migrants to its territory. The technology is based on computer algorithms, relying on facial recognition methods through advanced watches that will force the people concerned to wear them permanently, and to look at them five times a day to record and update data, five times a day. Observers and activists have condemned this method as a violation of the basic rights of those involved, as well as their fear that it will target asylum seekers under the pretext of entering the country illegally.
There is no doubt that today we are living through a technological revolution in every sense of the word, which has overshadowed most aspects of our daily lives and has become an integral part of the general behavior we take for ourselves, whether in our homes or in public places. This revolution, which somehow changed our concepts of everything that constitutes the surrounding environment, whether it is work, music or the kitchen… It changed the impressions of people, even about themselves and the ways they communicate with themselves and others.
In 1949, George Orwell’s famous novel 1984 was published, in which he predicted the fate of mankind decades after the novel was written. Today we can see, both in amazement and fear, the closeness between the predictions of the English writer and the lived reality. In the novel, Orwell talks about ubiquitous television screens watching people, predicting their behavior by looking at all the details of their diaries. Today, the smart devices that accompany us constantly do this work, even connecting us to the virtual world of social media, which through its complex software gathers intricate details about our personalities, passions and desires and allows them to facilitate easy access for electronic sellers . to our accounts, for example.
But why did we start talking about this thorny and overwhelming issue at the same time? What is its relationship to immigration today?
Biometric watches to monitor migrants
The British government, which has come up with proposals and “solutions” to combat irregular immigration, will force migrants prosecuted for “criminal offences” to wear smartwatches equipped with facial recognition technologies, five times a day thereafter to look .
British newspaper The Guardian reported on documents, citing the Home Office, that this move would include “daily monitoring of individuals subject to immigration control”, with the requirement to wear either electronic bracelets on the ankle or ‘ wearing a smart watch that accompanies them at all times.
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Migrants interested in wearing the watch will have to complete a series of daily checks to monitor their movements throughout the day, by taking a photo of themselves wearing the watch, and their personal data, such as their name, date of birth and nationality …. Their movements and locations will also be monitored “around the clock” on weekdays, so track monitoring data can be recorded,” according to the documents.
The images that the watches will take will be checked by devices in the Ministry of the Interior, and they will be compared with the biometric data registered with the Ministry about the immigrant in question. The results of this data will be shared by the Ministry of the Interior and the Ministry of Justice, in addition to specific officials involved in the field tracking of migrants.
What do asylum seekers have to do with those hours?
For the UK Home Office, the smartwatch project will be limited to “foreign criminals” who have been convicted of crimes, and will not be related to other groups such as asylum seekers.
It is expected that those who will be forced to wear that watch will be subject to specific procedures, such as in some cases curfews and the geographic range within which they will be allowed to move, just as the procedures subject to those who wear electronic bracelets.
Last June, a report by the National Audit Office stated that the government “views electronic monitoring as an effective alternative to the detention system, helping to protect the public and prevent those involved from reoffending.”
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Activists say that monitoring people around the clock violates human rights and can have a detrimental effect on the health and well-being of migrants.
“Technology that tends to discriminate against people of color”
Speaking to local media, Lucy Audebert, a lawyer and legal officer at Privacy International, said: “Facial recognition is known as an imperfect and dangerous technology that tends to discriminate against people of color and marginalized communities. Often these ‘innovations’ in the field of security and surveillance is driven by private companies, which profit from governments’ race for total surveillance and population control.”
“Through their obscure technologies and algorithms, they facilitate government discrimination and human rights violations without any accountability. No other country in Europe has deployed this inhumane technology against migrants.”
And in May the government awarded British technology company Buddi Limited a £6m contract to supply “personal monitoring devices” linked to a satellite location tracking service at the Home Office. The government is scheduled to begin implementing the project throughout the country next fall.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Interior, commenting on this project, said that a “portable device containing biometric data” will be adopted for the targeted people within the current plan to put tracking devices on them, such as electronic bracelets.
“The public expects us to monitor convicted foreign criminals. The suggestion that this step would be applied to asylum seekers who arrived illegally is simply wrong. Since August 2021, the Home Office has managed to detain more than 2,500 identifying foreign criminals and reassured victims that their perpetrators cannot escape the law and will be expelled from the UK as soon as possible.”
“Since January 2019, the government has removed more than 10,000 foreign criminals. Foreign criminals should have no doubt about our determination to deport them,” he said.
In the midst of all this controversy, the government has not released any document or study on the impact of these devices on the mental health of the targeted people, nor has it categorically confirmed the exclusion of asylum seekers who can be classified as “criminals”. . of the scheme. It also did not specify the length of time migrants would remain subject to these measures.
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Psychologists have spoken about the impact of electronic monitoring on the lives of its subjects, as it is practically a permanent intrusion technique on their personal and intimate lives. In addition, it causes symptoms of anxiety and depression, and stimulates thoughts related to suicide.
In 2018, the Center for Human Rights at the University of Essex in the UK released a report on the use of facial recognition technology in police work. The report, which talked about the use of this technology by the London Metropolitan Police, revealed that the error rates in the software related to this technology amounted to 81% of the total cases subjected to it.
In the end, it must be recognized that the facial recognition technology used in a number of machines and technological means that we use on a daily basis will not be put on the shelf and the authorities around the world will not stop researching how to into an instrument in their hand to suppress crime on the one hand, and perhaps to suppress population groups on the other. But here we have to ask about the responsibility of the private companies that develop such technologies, and how much are they willing to make additional efforts to make them more humane, less discriminatory and more fair? As for governments, including the British government, does the solution lie in adopting totalitarian mechanisms that put us all under the control of the authorities? Or is it really time to rethink these means and start adopting more humane and fair mechanisms, far from stereotyping and isolation?