Home Office buys thousands of ‘migrant tracker’ wristbands as it expands monitoring

Use of barcode-scanning system comes alongside GPS ankle tags and biometric tracking
Photo: rawpixel.com/PxHere

By Sam Trendall

10 Aug 2022

As it expands the use of technology to monitor the movements of foreign nationals, the Home Office has signed a six-figure contract for thousands of barcode-enabled wristbands to be used as “migrant trackers”.

The department last month entered a one-year deal with specialist tech firm Barcode Warehouse, based in Newark, CSW's sister title PublicTechnology has revealed. The engagement, which is worth just under £150,000, constitutes a “contract for the provision of barcoded wristbands and corresponding scanning equipment, in addition to asset-tracking software”, according to a procurement notice.

Under the headline reference “migrant tracker”, the deal was awarded as a call-off contract via the government procurement framework dedicated to Vehicle Telematics. 

Outside of this outline information, almost all other specific details have been redacted from the contract document.

If half of the £150,000 cost of the contract covered the wristbands themselves – with the other half spent on the accompany software and hardware – this would equate to the supply of at least 65,000 wristbands, pricing on the supplier’s website suggests.

It is not clear in what circumstances individuals will be fitted with these wristbands and, when asked, the Home Office did not provide this information.

But the bands are now one of several means used by the department to monitor and track foreign nationals in the UK. 

Other methods include GPS-powered electronic ankle tags. The department faced criticism last month after it emerged that the tags were being fitted not just to foreign nationals convicted of serious criminal offences, but also to new arrivals in the UK hoping to claim asylum.

In addition to the GPS devices, procurement information released earlier this year revealed that, in partnership with the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office was also to introduce “non-fitted devices” that will enable tracking via a process of “periodic biometric verification”. According to a story in the Guardian, this will entail the use of a smartwatch device equipped with facial-recognition software, through which the wearer will be required to check in up to five times each day.

To supply this technology, the department signed a 20-month contract with wearable tech firm Buddi. The deal, which is worth £6m, is intended to provide authorities with “a more proportionate way of monitoring specific cohorts over extended periods of time than fitted tags”, the contract states.  

In comparison with the biometric and GPS-powered electronic monitoring methods, the radio frequency identification technology with which the wristbands will be equipped is relatively unobtrusive. Such systems typically do not provide comprehensive tracking of movement, but rather provide notice if and when a person, vehicle or object moves beyond a designated area.

In response to enquiries from PublicTechnology, the Home Office claimed that – unless the individual in question has an exemption – it is legally obligated to conduct electronic monitoring of all foreign nationals on bail for immigration offences. 

The department indicated that, as part of a plan to increase compliance with monitoring measures, it intends to increase the overall number of foreign nationals fitted with tags – although decisions on whether such devices are required will be made on a case-by-case basis.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “Since August 2021, the Home Office has successfully tagged over 2,000 foreign criminals, reassuring victims that their perpetrators cannot escape the law and will be removed from the UK at the earliest opportunity. Since January 2019, the government has removed over 10,000 foreign criminals.

"Foreign criminals should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them and the government is doing everything possible to increase the number of foreign national offenders being deported.”

Sam Trendall is editor of CSW's sister title PublicTechnology, where this story first appeared

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