The information commissioner’s office (ICO)has issued an enforcement notice and a warning to the Home Office for failing to sufficiently assess the data protection risks arising from the GPS electronic monitoring of migrants who have entered the UK illegally. This follows the launch of a Home Office pilot scheme to place ankle tags and track the GPS location of up to 600 migrants who arrived in the UK and were on immigration bail.



The aim of the pilot was to test whether electronic monitoring is an effective way to maintain regular contact with asylum seekers, while reducing the risk of absconding, and to establish whether it is an effective alternative to detention. Following concerns raised by Privacy International, the ICO has been in discussion with the Home Office about the scheme since August 2022. The ICO found the Home Office failed to sufficiently assess the privacy intrusion of the continuous collection of people’s location information.


Furthermore, the Home Office failed to provide clear and easily accessible information to migrants in the pilot scheme, including details of what data would be collected, how it would be used and retained, and why. The Home Office guidance also failed to provide sufficient direction to staff on when it would be necessary and proportionate to electronically monitor people as an immigration bail condition.


Although the pilot scheme ended in December 2023, the Home Office can still access the personal information gathered throughout the pilot until all the data has been deleted or anonymised. This means that the information collected may remain accessible and usable not only by the Home Office, but also by other third parties.


The ICO has issued the Enforcement Notice requiring the Home Office to update its internal policies, access guidance and privacy information in relation to the data retained from the pilot scheme. The ICO has also issued a formal warning stating that any future processing by the Home Office on the same basis will be in breach of data protection law and will attract enforcement action.


Our comments


The Home Office wants to use the pilot scheme to track migrants in detention. Such tracking is highly intrusive and such processing should be accompanied by robust guidance and procedures to ensure it is applied consistently and in a way that respects privacy. However, the Home Office failed to consider this from the outset, the policy was inconsistent and there were information gaps.


We are pleased to see that the privacy of migrants who are on immigration bail is also considered and protected in this move by the ICO. Improvements need to be made by the Home Office in its approach to ensure people’s information rights are respected and safeguarded.


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