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New spying powers

In today’s blog post we will be discussing the news that UK Border Agency Staff have been hacking into refugee’s, including asylum seekers, rape and torture victim’s, computers and phones. Since 2013 staff at the UK Border Agency have been given the powers to, not only to access computers and mobile phones, but to install listening devices in homes, cars or detention centres.

This shocking revelation has caused outrage among civil rights groups and campaigners for rape victims who see it as distressing that the UK government have handed out powers that target some of the most vulnerable in society.

Since 2013 immigration officials have been given the power to “property interference, including interference with equipment”,  this can include installing a listening device in a home, car or even detention centre and the hacking of phones or computers. Many fear that these powers could jeopardise lawyer-client confidentiality in potentially sensitive immigration and asylum cases.

These powers were granted through an amendment to the 1997 police act. Campaigners see the legislation governing such intrusive powers as out of touch and not fit for purpose. Many recognise that people in detention have the right to privacy and confidentiality when discussing potentially sensitive information such as details of rape, torture, domestic violence and abuse by officials with their lawyer.

The Home Office cite that the use of these extra powers is purely preventative and aims to give officers a full range of techniques and tools to deal with any immigration related issue. It added that the powers are only intended to be used to prevent or investigate serious crime relating to immigration.

Home Office officials have further confirmed that “equipment interference” had been used to prevent serious crime, including disrupting the supply of counterfeit travel documents, which could have been used to facilitate the smuggling of illegal migrants.

As concerns grow over the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ which would give police powers to hack into phone calls and monitor browsing histories, fears have increased over state surveillance and many are shocked with the government. The extension of police powers granted under the investigatory powers bill has been met with great criticism from surveillance campaigners, three parliamentary commissions and MPs.

With the Brexit debate in full swing immigration is once again dominating headlines. Many fear that important issues such as taxation, governance and security are being sidelined by immigration. Whilst those in favour of leaving the EU cite immigration as a key concern, others see the freedom of movement and right to work within other EU member states as ultimately the pay off for EU immigration.

The success of the spying powers in preventing serious crime relating to immigration remains unclear and critics are alarmed at what is seen as one more step towards the erosion of privacy within the UK. Vulnerable people who have little recourse to legal aid and assistance are placed in an even more difficult position as their safety and privacy is being undermined. The government ought to consider the human aspect of these new powers and not see such people as merely statistics instead of creating further difficulties that have to be overcome.

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