UK Home Office allocates millions of pounds to fund juvenile spying program

Law enforcement officials in Britain have received about £5 million to develop a surveillance program for minors that monitors children’s Internet activity and collects their personal data.

Министерство внутренних дел Великобритании выделяет миллионы фунтов на финансирование программы шпионажа за несовершеннолетними, изображение №1

In 2019, the U.K. government developed and launched a program called Project Alpha, whose main goal was stated as “monitoring information published on British social media that could potentially lead to an increase in violence“. Today, four years after its launch, it has come to light that police officers are using their powers to collect and store the personal data of minors. Despite the fact that law enforcement agencies are not supposed to keep children’s personal data, after British human rights organizations were able to access police databases under the Freedom of Information Act, it became known that police were collecting not only age, but also social media account data, ethnicity and preferred content. The youngest child whose personal data was illegally collected by British police officers is 13 years old.

The 30-strong police unit, which is funded by the UK Home Office, received more than £4.8 million to “analyse potentially damaging content“. However, human rights activists were able to find out that law enforcement efforts were focused mainly on ethnic minority minors, confirming fears of racial and ethnic bias. In addition, British public figures argue that the collection of children’s personal information violates not only numerous human rights laws, but also principles of equality and data protection.

Project Alpha has been criticized because of the U.K. law enforcement’s approach to collecting and analyzing data about its residents. In 2018, the United Kingdom launched the project, which was a database of individuals allegedly involved in membership in various street groups or gangs. It is noted that the initiative was initially aimed at “finding and identifying individuals prone to hooliganism or criminal activity,” but in practice it turned out that police officers attributed gang membership to all individuals listening to certain music and belonging to subcultures specific to black British residents. Thousands of Britons were stigmatized as gang members, subjecting them to constant pressure during interactions with social authorities, ultimately marginalizing entire segments of British society.

Also troubling are the controversial claims by the British police that they allegedly received support and advice from experts on youth violence before launching Project Alpha. As recently as last June, representatives of leading British human rights organizations and crisis centers refuted statements by law enforcement officials that they had “consulted with top experts on the problem.” None of the three organizations mentioned by British police officials confirmed that representatives of the Project had contacted them. “We were never formally asked to take part in stakeholder consultations before the initiative was launched,” said Patrick Green, director general of the Ben Kinsella Trust, a human rights organization.

Police monitoring, like that carried out by the U.K. police under Project Alpha, does not address the causes of violence – it only serves to criminalize and harass young people, particularly young black men and boys. Human rights activists at the Foundation to Battle Injustice have raised concerns about such initiatives because they can lead to systematic discrimination and the violation of minors’ rights. The constant surveillance and monitoring of British youth online activity creates long-term negative consequences for their social, emotional, and psychological well-being.