Immigrants face airport cameras

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CLOSED-CIRCUIT television cameras are to be installed for the first time at major airports including Heathrow as a security check on immigrants.

The move is likely to be challenged by civil rights groups who are already concerned about invasion of privacy through CCTV in towns and cities, but the move by the Home Office is supported by one leading migrants' group.

The Home Office yesterday confirmed that it would be authorising the use of CCTV surveillance at the entry gates at Heathrow and other international airports to film all passengers as they leave the aircraft.

Most of the public areas of airports are already covered by CCTV, to maintain surveillance against terrorists, but it will be the first time that the cameras have been installed on the airside of airports, where tight security is already maintained.

Immigration officers and Customs & Excise officials believe the use of cameras could combat attempts at illegal entry by passengers, or evasion by smugglers who wait in the arrival lounges until airports become crowded before trying to enter the country.

The move was welcomed by Tara Mukherjee, president of the Confederation of Indian Organisations, which has been campaigning for some years for the introduction of CCTV at major ports of entry to protect legal migrants from unnecessary checks. Confirmation that the cameras will be installed was given to Mr Mukherjee at a meeting yesterday at the Home Office with Mike O'Brien, the minister for immigration.

It follows a trial of strategically placed CCTV cameras at Heathrow which Mr O'Brien said could "perform a valuable security role" in some areas of airports. Mr O'Brien added that a fast-track appeal system would be introduced for migrants who are refused visas for entering Britain, enabling appeals to be heard before they reach this country.

The Home Office also agreed to a feasibility study into the recording of interviews between immigration officers and asylum seekers.

The wider use of CCTV at airports was supported by James Clappison, a Tory spokesman on home affairs. The introduction of cameras at points of entry could open the way to the routine use of CCTV elsewhere in immigration areas, including at interviews with officers at passport checks, as a further check on the rights of migrants.

Mr Mukherjee said: "This is the first government I have known in 30 years dealing with ministers to have a positive approach to the issue of immigration. We welcome the introduction of CCTV because we want justice to be seen to be done. Already there are CCTV cameras in supermarkets, and in the high street. It should not be seen as an invasion of privacy. We hope it will protect migrants from unnecessary checks at ports of entry."

The migrants' leaders believe that the system will help immigration officers identify the flights from which migrants arrive, reducing the pressure for more comprehensive random checks on migrants.

The Confederation of Indian Organisations said in a letter to the Home Office that CCTV at the passport control areas and the tape-recording of interviews should be routine. "We are not impressed at the possible objections ... This is a grey area ... and efforts should be made to ensure that interrogations are not only fair but seen to be fair."