Activists gatecrash Capita's AGM to protest GPS tracking contract
Outsourcer asked to take 'principled stance'
We hear Privacy International and a few other campaign groups set up camp outside Capita's AGM in London yesterday protesting Capita's involvement as an outsourcer in a UK government GPS tracking contract.
The groups, who drove a billboard van to the London shareholders meeting and were distributing leaflets outside, claim the government's electronic tagging project amounts to "racialized surveillance." Nasrin Warsame, Policy & Research coordinator at Bail for Immigration Detainees, claimed the outsourcer "facilitates" this by providing services for the Ministry of Justice to track "non-British people - including asylum seekers and people born and raised in the UK."
Warsame added: "We urge Capita to take a principled stance and make these harmful policies obsolete."
Privacy International has previously complained that the UK Home Office and the MoJ continue to "throw money at procurement of GPS tags to monitor migrants... despite the fact only 1 percent of migrants abscond from immigration bail," citing a statistic it obtained via a Freedom of Information request [PDF].
Immigration is dealt with under criminal law, meaning someone accused of breaking the rules, even a person who has never committed a criminal offence, could be fitted with one.
Privacy International told us that "anyone without leave to remain can be tagged, whether they've committed a criminal offence or not."
Lucie Audibert, a lawyer at the organization, added that those who are accused of criminal offences – which she said could "indeed include a breach of immigration laws" – fall under the "mandatory duty" of Schedule 10 of the Immigration Act 2016, "under which the Home Office must electronically monitor all Foreign National Offenders subject to deportation proceedings (unless they're under 18 or there are human rights reasons not to do so)."
She added: "On top of that, the Home Office can decide to tag anyone without leave to remain, whether they've committed a criminal offence or not, if they grant them immigration bail and decide that tagging is useful to ensure that person complies with their bail conditions or if they think this person is a threat to public order."
The charities say Capita's delivery of GPS tracking services "allows the Home Office to monitor the location of non-British citizens as part of its hostile environment immigration policy."
A Home Office spokesperson told us: "Foreign nationals who abuse our hospitality by committing crimes in the UK should be in no doubt of our determination to deport them.
"Where removal isn't immediately possible, electronic monitoring can be used to manage foreign national offenders and selected others released on immigration bail.
"Electronic monitoring allows for more effective contact management of individuals so that they comply with their immigration bail conditions until they are removed."
Under human rights law, children under 18 and pregnant women can't be tagged.
A 12-month pilot [PDF] has been underway since June 2022 last year to test whether electronic monitoring is an "effective" way to maintain regular contact with asylum claimants who arrive in the UK "via unnecessary and dangerous routes."
Campaigns director at Privacy International Harmit Kambo added: "Capita PLC claims to be a purpose-driven business, but what kind of a purpose is subjecting non-British citizens to 24-hour surveillance? It's punitive, controlling, unnecessary, and has severe human rights implications - the government is already under investigation and facing various legal claims.
Kambo said: "Companies should not be blindly profiting from such hostile policies."
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We have asked Capita for comment.
The outsourcing giant has been running electronic monitoring services for the Ministry of Justice and His Majesty's Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) since 2014, having won the prisoner tagging contract after a previous contractor, rival outsourcing giant Serco, was involved in a fraud scandal. Its outsourcing rival was fined more than £22 million ($27 million) over allegations it had been overcharging the MoJ. The Serious Fraud Office said its audit found the contractor claiming to have monitored offenders in the community that were already in jail, had left the country or were dead.
After winning a six-year contract for tagging with the MoJ in 2014, Capita's work on the project was then extended by three years in 2020.
Capita already oversees an enormous array of multi million pound government contracts and has been named one of the UK's "strategic suppliers" to its public sector by spending research firm Tussell. "Strategic suppliers" are those companies that do so much business with government that the Cabinet Office gets involved with managing procurement with them, which means the numbers are easier to access as they are direct sales to the public sector. Microsoft's numbers, for example, are mostly indirect sales through distributors and resellers. According to Tussell's research, the UK spent £938 million ($1.2 billion) with Capita across various tech contracts in 2021, although that was a 12 percent drop from 2020.
As for the MoJ's tagging programme, it is controversially set to soon include facial scanning, with the Home Office and Justice Dept looking to get migrants with criminal convictions to scan their faces up to five times a day using a smartwatch running facial-recog software. The MoJ awarded the contract to UK supplier Buddi Ltd in May last year.
Capita turned over £3.01 billion in revenues in fiscal 2022 [PDF], reporting profit before tax of £61.4 million. The outsourcing poster child told the stock market in March this year that its business process services (BPS) "created value," adding that government spending in the UK with private organizations was around £176 billion and spending on BPS is growing at around 5 percent per annum. It added: "As Capita has won and delivered more digital transformation and IT contracts across the public sector, the UK Government now regards us as a digital service provider alongside delivering traditional outsourcing scopes of work." ®