PCCs lead calls for satellite tags on offenders

Tracking people using GPS devices raises concerns among civil liberties groups

Brian Brady
Friday 10 May 2013 12:47

Britain's new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) want to use a controversial GPS tagging system to keep track of repeat offenders at all times.

More than two-thirds of the PCCs have written to the Government demanding a multi-million-pound upgrade of the present system of "curfew tagging" to improve monitoring of the most persistent criminals.

The Global Positioning System (GPS) devices, labelled "chav nav" by some supporters, are credited with slashing crime rates in countries where they are already used. Experts claim tracing offenders' movements changes their behaviour and makes them less likely to reoffend. At present, tagging bracelets alert authorities only when an offender has broken a curfew. Current laws prevent GPS tags from being used on a compulsory basis. The security firm G4S is in the running for the £1bn contract for the Coalition's new offender-tracking system. The firm told MPs GPS tracking could make curfews "tougher, targeted and more effective".

But civil liberties groups have warned that the new tags could amount to unwarranted intrusion into offenders' lives. The Bedfordshire PCC, Olly Martins, said offenders who volunteered to wear the £250 GPS tags during a pilot in his area were linked with three offences. Before the pilot, they had been connected to 459 crimes which cost the taxpayer £1.4m.

In a letter to the Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, signed by 26 fellow PCCs, Mr Martins said: "This technology clearly has the potential to make a significant impact on offending behaviour and thereby cut crime – one of the Government's top priorities.

"The next generation of tags are set to have the capability not just to provide location data but also to monitor sweat for drug and alcohol content. PCCs are ideally placed to devise the initiatives that can explore the potential of this technology to the full."

The GPS system tracks an offender's movements and sends data to a website that police can use to track locations, journeys and even speeds travelled. But the Howard League for Penal Reform warned: "There are clear civil liberty concerns stemming from this proposal that MPs will want to consider."

The Justice Minister, Jeremy Wright, said the next generation of electronic monitoring contracts "will introduce the most advanced tracking technology … that can be deployed robustly".