December 1, 2023

The UK Home Office and Ministry of Justice have reportedly found a new use for smartwatches: tracking certain people by having them submit photos of their faces up to five times a day.

The guardian References(Opens in a new window) that “immigrants who have been convicted of a criminal offence” are expected to be subject to this smartwatch-based monitoring from later this year.

The devices used as part of this tracking program will be provided by a company called Buddi Limited, which says that Website(Opens in a new window) that it “focuses on providing peace of mind by enabling people to live independently in their homes for longer” thanks to its smartwatch-enabled service.

Buddi currently offers two devices: a wristband that “can automatically detect falls and has buttons that can be pressed if you need help,” and a clip-on device that “has a built-in speaker and microphone that allows for two-way communication when alerts are activated.”

The devices, which are to be released by the UK Home Office and the Ministry of Justice, will also continuously track their users’ locations, according to The guardianwhich says the UK government expects to store information about the people it tracks for up to six years.

It is unclear from the report whether the UK government expects Buddi to produce a smartwatch capable of taking photos, or whether the images would be taken using a smartphone. Nor is it clear exactly how the government will determine who to monitor with these devices.

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The UK Home Office is quoted as saying the trackers “will be for foreign national offenders who have been convicted of a criminal offence, rather than other groups such as asylum seekers”. But that may not be the case – intentionally or not – once the devices are officially installed.

The guardian reports that the UK government expects to spend around $7.2 million (£6 million) to start this program, but “the number of devices to be produced and the cost of each smartwatch was set in the contract”, so the full scope of the program remains unknown.

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