The Habeas Corpus Project website was among several websites that immigration detainees were blocked from visiting. We expressed our strong concern about this in in March 2015.
A Detention Services Order 04/2016 regarding internet access for detainees has recently been published by the Home Office, allowing detainees to have “reasonable and regulated access” for a minimum of at least 7 hours a day and 7 days a week – although an excessive demand of access will result in limited individual time slots. This DSO marks the first time the Home Office has set a standardised policy which must be followed by immigrations centres and includes guidelines that internet suppliers of detention centres must follow when providing their services.
This order gives detainees the right to access websites of educational, legal and news content, as well as to assist them in “maintaining links with friends, families and legal representatives and to prepare for removal”. As mentioned in our previous blogpost (link), we were informed by one of our clients that detainees were blocked from accessing our website, as well as the websites of other legal support organisations and even the websites of some solicitors’ firms.
This standardised policy should, in theory, mean that detainees will be allowed to access these previously blocked websites, but only time will tell whether this guideline will be complied by the detention centres. Access to these websites are of particular importance as it enables detainees to obtain information on legal support and assistance, and even more so at a time where cuts to legal aid are being made.
There are, however, other doubtful provisions that the Home Office has set, such as one where any detainee found to be attempting to access websites falling under the “list of prohibited categories” (Paragraph 11) will be suspended from further usage of the internet.
“Prohibited lifestyle categories:
Social networking (including Facebook, Twitter, chat rooms and instant messaging)
Prohibited harm related categories
Terrorism (extremist and radicalisation material)
Weapons and explosives
Despite stating that detainees are supposedly allowed to maintain links with their friends and family in its procedures, it is still unclear as to why detainees would be denied access to social networking websites such as Skype and Facebook. The purpose of the order states how “reasonable and regulated” access to internet is granted as long as the “security of the detention estate is not undermined” and the Habeas Corpus Project fail to see how allowing detainees access to websites that would connect them with their friends and family can be a potential threat to the security of any of the detention centres.
In an independent review published by Stephen Shaw, a former Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales, Shaw was highly critical of the blanket ban of social networking websites, stating that such restricted access to the internet was counter-productive and he found no security objection from the centre operators. Any “downloading and uploading of files” are also prohibited due to security reasons and any detainee wishing to do so must report to the internet supplier’s security manager to receive the appropriate support.
The Habeas Corpus Project welcomes the loosening of the restrictions on the detainees’ access to internet and we are pleased that there is finally a standardised set of guidelines that internet suppliers must follow when monitoring the detainees’ internet. However, there are still certain aspects of the DSO that we find lack basis, such as the prohibition of using social networking websites and the strict conditions on the uploading and downloading of files. Since this DSO is to be implemented at the end of the month, only time will tell how this DSO will impact the detainees’ access to internet.