NEWS1 March 2024

Home Office issued with ICO enforcement notice

News Privacy Public Sector UK

UK – The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has issued an enforcement notice and a warning to the Home Office for failing to sufficiently assess the privacy risks posed by the electronic monitoring of migrants.

Home office

The ICO said it had been in conversation with the Home Office since August 2022 about a pilot to place ankle tags on 600 migrants who were on immigration bail and track their GPS location, after Privacy International raised concerns about the scheme.

The pilot, which ended in December 2023, aimed to test whether electronic monitoring was an effective way of keeping contact with asylum claimants and reducing the risk of absconding, and as an alternative to detention.

The ICO found the Home Office failed to sufficiently assess the privacy intrusion of the continuous collection of people’s location information.

Additionally, the ICO said that Home Office failed to assess the potential impact on people who may already be in a vulnerable position due to their immigration status, including the conditions of their journeys to the UK or English not being their first language.

The ICO added that this meant the Home Office did not sufficiently consider what measures should be put in place to mitigate against those risks, such as providing clear information about why people’s location data was being collected and how it would be used.

The Home Office was unable to explain sufficiently why it was necessary or proportionate to collect, access and use people’s information via electronic monitoring for the pilot’s purpose, including failing to evidence that it had considered less intrusive methods, the ICO said.

The Home Office also failed to provide clear and easily accessible information to the people being tagged about what personal information is being collected, the ICO explained, as well as how it would be used, how long it would be kept for and with whom it would be shared.

The privacy information was not set out clearly in one place, was inconsistent and there were information gaps, according to the ICO.

John Edwards, UK information commissioner, said: “Having access to a person’s 24/7 movements is highly intrusive, as it is likely to reveal a lot of information about them, including the potential to infer sensitive information such as their religion, sexuality or health status.

“Lack of clarity on how this information will be used can also inadvertently inhibit people’s movements and freedom to take part in day-to-day activities.

“If such information were to be mishandled or misinterpreted, it could potentially have harmful consequences to people and their future. The Home Office did not assess those risks sufficiently, which means the pilot scheme was not legally compliant.”