WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO
February 01 2023
WE ARE A MAGAZINE ABOUT LAW AND JUSTICE | AND THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE TWO

Invasive GPS surveillance of migrants causes ‘psychological torture’

Invasive GPS surveillance of migrants causes ‘psychological torture’

Pic: Patrick Maguire
Self Portrait: Patrick Maguire

An invasive GPS tagging system, currently being used to monitor the movements of some migrants, is inflicting ‘psychological torture’ according to experts. A new report published by several charities recommends an ‘immediate end’ to these ‘perpetual degrading, dehumanising and coercive surveillance measures.’ 

The evidence revealed in a collaborative report from The Public Law Project, Bail for Immigration Detainees and Medical Justice, identifies that tagging can cause ‘significant psychological harm,’ as well as affecting physical health. There are also concerns regarding the Home Office’s adherence to data protection laws when collecting the GPS data.

The testimonies in the report describes both physical and mental strain, affecting the ability of wearers to function normally. In the words of one person interviewed: 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?

Social stigma is a commonly shared experience for those who gave their testimonies, affecting the ability of participants to find work, interact with the wider community and participate in family life. For many the monitor is a persistent source of worry: ‘every time I see it and I’m just thinking they’re going to take me from my daughter any minute now.’

GPS tagging systems, in the form of ankle monitors, are designed to track the location of wearers 24/7. The Home Office can at its discretion decide to attach the monitor to any person on immigration bail for an indefinite period. The lack of a time limit has contributed to mental strain, as one interview described, ‘you don’t know what is happening with your life. No date – just waiting, for how long?’ 

These measures, according to Annie Viswanathan (BID’s Director) reflects a worrying trend: ‘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.’

The measure, according to the Home Office, is designed to prevent people from absconding. However, the rates of absconding are low, with Jo Hynes of the Public Law Project pointing out that ‘the latest figures show that only 1.3% of people released from detention absconded in the first six months of 2022.’

Surveillance measures incur a significant cost to taxpayers, involving contracts sometimes worth hundreds of millions of pounds, being awarded to private companies. Despite the hefty cost associated with ankle monitors, the report revealed that they often do not work effectively, the technology is inefficient and cumbersome, placing further stress on those to whom they are attached.