January 30, 2023

The UK Home Office and the Ministry of Justice are said to have discovered a new use for smartwatches: monitoring certain people by having them send pictures of their faces up to five times a day.

Watchman Reports(Opens in a new window) It is expected that “migrants who have been convicted of a criminal offense” will be subject to this smartwatch-based monitoring starting later this year.

The hardware used as part of this monitoring program will be provided by a company called Buddi Limited which says that website(Opens in a new window) “Its focus is on providing peace of mind by enabling people to live independently in their homes for longer” thanks to the service powered by a smartwatch.

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 device “which has a built-in speaker and microphone that enables two-way communication when alerts are enabled.”

The devices to be rolled out by Britain’s Home Office and the Ministry of Justice will also constantly track the locations of the wearer, according to the Watchmanwhich says the UK government expects to store information about people it monitors for up to six years.

It is not clear from the report whether the UK government expects Buddi to produce a smartwatch capable of taking pictures or whether the pictures will be taken with a smartphone instead. It is also not clear exactly how the government will determine who should be tracked with these devices.

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The UK Home Office has reportedly said the tracking tools will “be for foreign offenders who have been convicted of a criminal offence, not other groups, such as asylum seekers”. But that may not be the case – intentionally or unintentionally – once the devices are officially published.

Watchman Reports state that the UK government expects to spend approximately $7.2m (£6m) on this software to get started, but “the number of devices to be produced and the cost of each smartwatch have been adjusted in the contract”, so the full scope of the software is not still unknown.

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