Digital Hostile Environment: Passports and Facial Recognition

The Government has proposed using people’s passports and biometric residence permits for facial recognition. This kind of technology contributes to the increasing digitisation of the border, pushing border surveillance deeper into all of our lives. At MRN, we are concerned about the usage of travel and visa documents being used in this way, as it increases the precarious status of migratised communities in particular. We will be challenging this practice alongside our wider opposition to plans to share personal data with the police and Home Office 

What’s the plan?

The proposal for using people’s identification documents in domestic criminal investigations comes after supermarkets reported increased numbers of thefts amidst the ongoing cost of living crisis. The policing minister, Chris Philp, revealed this at the Conservative Party conference, stating that police officers will soon be instructed to search these databases. His statement followed an announcement from the Home Office and Ministry of Defence on expanding the use of facial recognition technology. The Policing Minister has since called for police forces to double their usage of this technology by May 2024

This comes amidst the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, which could remove passports from Britain’s successor to GDPR regulations, as well as routes to effective judicial redress. It is alarming that the already lax laws governing the usage of this kind of personal data could be weakened more. It is also essential to contextualise these moves within other authoritarian legislation, such as the Public Order Act 2022, and the increasing usage of facial recognition technology.

The gendered and racialised inaccuracies of the technology are worrying and reason enough to halt the expansion of facial recognition and the sources it draws from, but we fundamentally oppose it for the following reasons: The expansion of surveillance into all of our lives disproportionately affects migratised people by expanding the digital Hostile Environment. In particular, this technology advances data collection about people’s movement within London, extending the surveillance of migratised populations that already takes place through GPS ankle tagging and data sharing in public services, like the NHS, and social services. 

We should be stopping all data sharing of this nature, not expanding it.

Check out our other work on the digital hostile environment and digitisation of the UK border.

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