Feeds

Immigration, police share data in trawl of 'crime hot-spots'

Pretext + databases + mobile terminals. Yum.

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

Security for virtualized datacentres

As the UK Home Office has stressed on numerous occasions, police will not be given powers to demand ID papers from you as and when a national identity card is introduced. The Home Office has not however shouted quite so loudly about the fact that the Immigration and Nationalities Directorate (IND) has these powers already, and has been busily using them since at least May 2003.

In a House of Commons written answer (reported here, and in Hansard here, immigration minister Des Browne confirmed that "a variety of joint multi-agency street crime operations" has been mounted in London over the past 15 months, and that: "Focusing on crime hotspots, the Immigration Service has been invited to attend where an immigration offence is expected."

Browne was fielding a question from Liberal Democrat Home Affairs spokesman Mark Oaten, who had requested a statement on these joint exercises, and data on the number of individuals questioned and the number arrested. Browne's answer, you will note, fails to focus on the specific question and, unsurprisingly, fails to produce complete data. In 235 operations involving the Immigration Service between May 2003 and July 2004, around 1,000 immigration offenders, including 717 failed asylum seekers, were arrested. The data on the numbers of people questioned, on the other hand, is kept by police officers "in their individual notebooks" and "not collated centrally."

Regrettably, it is therefore not possible for the Home Office to assess the race relations impact of such operations; news reports from last month however suggest that there probably is one. Oaten's question appears to follow up a story from the Evening Standard which revealed joint Immigration Service and Transport Police operations, and witnessed "a series of people getting off Tube trains [being] stopped by immigration officers dressed in body armour and carrying handcuffs." An immigration officer helpfully explained: 'If you hear someone speaking a language that's not European we approach them and ask, do you mind if I ask you what nationality you are?'"

According to Browne's statement immigration officers "may legitimately question people to determine their immigration status where there is reasonable suspicion that a person is an immigration offender", so it's useful clarification to note that the officers on the ground see speaking foreign languages as grounds for "reasonable suspicion." A report of a specific swoop from the Bucks Free Press provides more details.

"Operation Collegiate" was mounted in early August at Harrow and Wealdstone station by the Immigration Service and British Transport Police in conjunction with train operator Silverlink. "Suspected fare dodgers were approached by police officers and their names checked against databases on handheld computers to see if they were illegal immigrants or were wanted for other offences." This, incidentally, suggests we have a trawl within a trawl, as it is not part of the usual business of Transport Police to operate as ticket inspectors. As the Free Press tells us, however: "A BTP spokesman said that many criminals also avoid paying their fares on public transport."

So we can see the ability to check ID against databases via handheld terminals as yielding multi-level synergies to this kind of operation. 'Reasonably suspicious' immigration officers can demand your papers, transport police suspecting fare dodging can throw up immigration irregularities and a range of other wanted criminals, and ticket inspectors can trigger intervention by either or both of the other two. Even discounting the Bucks Free Press' apparent suggestion that changing platforms constitutes "acting suspiciously," there seems to be plenty of scope for demanding ID here.

As we reported earlier, however, such joint immigration-police operations have included a "walk up" at identified locations, including "car washes and other similar activity". Which is another example of checking ID in areas where immigration officers might have reasonable grounds for suspecting people who look and/or sound foreign.

Presuming the ID scheme is introduced, the national identity register will provide a useful tool for these scenarios. If the authorities do not have reasonable grounds for suspecting that you've committed an offence, then they cannot demand that you establish your identity. However (we argue the wackiness of the situation here), if they do profess reasonable grounds, mobile biometric readers would (if they work, which we continue to doubt) be a simple mechanism for establishing your identity, and any refusal on your part to have your biometrics read might look, well, even more suspicious.

One of the points worth noting here, however, is that well ahead of any central national ID register we have cross-referencing of databases by multiple government agencies, who are using pretexts such as 'criminals don't pay fares' or 'illegal immigrants run car-washes' as pretexts for trawls. Increased data sharing and consolidation of databases and the deployment of mobile terminals on such trawls is therefore progressively constructing such a register anyway. ®

Related stories

Data watchdog slams ID card plans

CBI wishes for the ID scheme we're not getting

ID cards: a bad idea, but we'll do it anyway

Tag, track, watch, analyse- UK goes mad on crime and terror IT

Blunkett appoints development partner for ID card project

Glitches in ID card kit frustrate Blunkett's pod people

ID cards to use 'key database' of personal info

UK public wants ID cards, and thinks we'll screw up the IT

ID cards: a guide for technically-challenged PMs (special report)

Business security measures using SSL

More from The Register

next story
JINGS! Microsoft Bing called Scots indyref RIGHT!
Redmond sporran metrics get one in the ten ring
Phones 4u slips into administration after EE cuts ties with Brit mobe retailer
More than 5,500 jobs could be axed if rescue mission fails
Phones 4u website DIES as wounded mobe retailer struggles to stay above water
Founder blames 'ruthless network partners' for implosion
Found inside ISIS terror chap's laptop: CELINE DION tunes
REPORT: Stash of terrorist material found in Syria Dell box
OECD lashes out at tax avoiding globocorps' location-flipping antics
You hear that, Amazon, Google, Microsoft et al?
Show us your Five-Eyes SECRETS says Privacy International
Refusal to disclose GCHQ canteen menus and prices triggers Euro Human Rights Court action
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Storage capacity and performance optimization at Mizuno USA
Mizuno USA turn to Tegile storage technology to solve both their SAN and backup issues.
High Performance for All
While HPC is not new, it has traditionally been seen as a specialist area – is it now geared up to meet more mainstream requirements?
Security and trust: The backbone of doing business over the internet
Explores the current state of website security and the contributions Symantec is making to help organizations protect critical data and build trust with customers.