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19 June 2018

Home Office misused asylum seekers’ private data

The Court of Appeal maintained that the Home Office had misused asylum seekers’ private data by publishing a spreadsheet containing private and confidential information for over 1,500 asylum applicants. The court, as Bindmans reports, had “no hesitation” in concluding that the Home Office’s practice was a breach of data protection rules, entitling individuals affected by the misuse to a damages payment.  

This particular court case is useful guidance about the recoverability of damages when private information and data rights are breached by government departments, according to Tamsin Allen, who represented the respondents to the government appeal.

Justice Gross, who gave the lead judgement, provided some context to this issue: “A hallmark of today’s world is the ease with which departments of State and large private organisations can collect, store and utilise vast quantities of data.” As migrants’ data gets collected and shared in increasingly easy, opaque and sometimes automated ways, and as this data becomes used for key administrative decisions, it is all the more important that the Home Office be held accountable. 

Unfortunately, this case is symptomatic of major discrepancies in the Home Office’s use of migrants’ personal data. 

The Home Office is acting as if it is above data protection laws. On one hand, the government divulged private information of asylum seekers; on the other, it seeks to withhold immigration information from individuals, through the immigration exemption to the data protection bill passed last month. 

The immigration exemption to the data protection bill will shut out individuals from obtaining their own own immigration records from the government, and ultimately make it more difficult to challenge immigration decisions. To understand more about the repercussions of the exemption, read MRN’s previous entry on the topic.