The Home Office has issued guidance demanding that immigration detainees are provided with internet access so they can maintain “links with friends, families and legal representatives and to prepare for removal.”
Publishing Detention Services Order 04/2016 (PDF) the Home Office has responded to an independent review into the welfare of immigration detainees that criticised the restrictions on internet access – which prevented access to immigration claims help sites, for example – as irrational and counter-productive.
Each detention centre must now ensure that computer terminals with internet access are available to detainees for a minimum of seven hours a day, every day, although “individual time slots may be limited if there is excessive demand”.
Many of the sites that Stephen Shaw, the former prisons and probation ombudsman, criticised remain blocked, however. Alongside gambling, dating, and pornographic sites, which remain prohibited, access to social networking sites — specifically “including Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and instant messaging” — must be out of reach for detainees.
The ban comes despite Shaw's stating that there was no security objection on the part of centre operators to detainees' accessing social networking services (in his 349-page review – PDF).
At the time of Shaw's report, Steve Symonds, Amnesty International UK's refugee and migrant rights expert, told The Register: "The denial of access to all social media is a significant constraint for people in immigration detention, many of whom may have no or little other contact with friends and family. Their detention is not supposed to be a form of punishment, yet this exclusion is in practice punitive."
The Home Office is now enforcing guidance which allows for heavily regulated and audited internet access amongst those held in the UK's detention facilities. It is the responsibility of the centre suppliers to ensure that detainees electronic communications are monitored, and that any privileged material (such as legal correspondence) is excluded from all monitoring.
Such monitoring presumably includes the member of the supplier's staff who must be present at all times. The "downloading and uploading of any files" is prohibited for detainees. The Home Office also states that "the supplier must ensure that there is a clear audit trail in place to match detainees with terminals, for example using CCTV." ®