A secret program in the UK has been using the school system’s data collection to uncover illegal migrants by identifying those children attending public school. In a recent interview with the Guardian, Martha Spurrier, the director of Liberty in the UK, accused the program of turning the Department of Education “into a border control force with an explicit aim to create a hostile environment in schools and assist with mass deportation of innocent children and their families.”

Surveillance of illegal migrants isn’t new of course. In the United States, for example, aerial surveillance programs that include using helicopters equipped with night vision surveillance technology, is credited with the capture of more than 100,000 illegal immigrants at the Mexican border this year alone.

Amidst claims of the crucial necessity of antiterrorism and other national and public-safety concerns, the US has seen a huge increase and growth in the surveillance of immigrants to their country, now commonly using drones along the U.S.- Mexican border and other high-tech forms of surveillance to ‘protect’ its citizens from…some poorly identified ‘threat’ apparently posed by illegals in the United States.

And this isn’t just happening in the States.

Canada and the UK, for example, have also been increasing their response to the ‘migrant threat,’ growing their surveillance programs as well. After 9/11, for instance, Canada signed the ‘Smart Border Declaration” with the United States, which means increasing the number of Canadian agents along the U.S.-Canada border, sharing intelligence, and new security measures which include face and fingerprint biometric screening systems.  The “Smart Border Declaration” between Canada and the United States means Canada agreed to also share passengers lists on flights between Canada and the United States as well.

The program in the UK to expose the children of illegal immigrants through school records is a new twist on surveillance, however, as it directly targets innocent children. The secret program was exposed after an outcry over the plan to include questions about where students were born as part of the yearly census. Human Rights groups in the UK concerned about including questions about students’ nationalities suggested it could create divisions in the classroom and “turn teachers into de facto border guards.”

Gracie Mae Bradley, from Against Borders for Children, worries the information collected is intended to be used against the migrant children and their families. In an interview with the Guardian, Mae Bradley warned that,  “This latest report confirms what we have always suspected – that the Home Office had intended to access and use nationality data collected from every single pupil in England to help it carry out immigration enforcement against migrant children and families.”

The information collected by the Department of Education, which it intends to still share with the Home Office, includes the names and addresses of over 1,000 children each month.  This means they’ll be collecting data on illegal migrants indirectly, through their children. This secret plan, outlined in a memo shared between the Department of Education and the Home Office, was made public after numerous demands for its release under a freedom of information request.

As shared in the Guardian’s article, one chilling suggestion in the memo included that the “strategic aims” of the data sharing would help to foster a “hostile environment for those who seek to benefit from the abuse of immigration control.”  One aspect not explored or discussed in the memo or Guardian piece is the potentially negative impact on parent/child relationships when the children are being used by the state as a tool against their own parents. As one human rights’ worker mentioned, school is supposed to be a ‘safe’ place for kids. There hasn’t been any research yet on how this might impact student enrolment among illegal migrant children, now perhaps fearful of getting themselves, and their entire families of course, deported.

A recent article in The New York Times explored the ethics of parents spying on their children, thanks to digital monitoring – being able to check the websites their teenagers have visited, including social media accounts, phone calls and messages. Cell phone carriers now offer the option of parental controls over their children’s cell phones, able to block their children from all kinds of things, even “crude humour.” T-Mobile offers a “FamilyWhere” service that allows parents to keep track of all phones on their accounts, which means of course, keeping track of their child’s physical location. Some would argue this is a great safety feature, being able to track where your child is at all time, while also spying on what they’re viewing and reading on the web, and whom they’re talking to.  The NYT piece suggested were becoming a world in which parental surveillance becomes “opt out instead opt in,” as it’s become that easy to keep secret tabs on our children simply by following their digital footprints around the web.

Regardless of where one might stand on the ethics of a parent spying on their child, how do we feel about a world in which the state is starting to opt in on the strategy of spying on us, through children?