Migrants' Rights Network

Pressure increases for government to protect migrants’ data protection rights

New legislation in the UK threatens to exclude migrants from data protection and privacy measures. A clause in the current version of the data protection bill gives the government the power to remove data protection rights from anyone whose details are processed for “effective immigration control.”

As Liberty explains, this data protection exemption would mean that:

Any agency handling [migrants’] data for immigration purposes – including private companies like G4S – will no longer be required to protect their personal information.

[Migrants] will lose their right to know what information [these agencies] have on [them], who’s looking at it and why.

[Migrants] won’t be able to erase any of that information or object to it being used for a new purpose – even though lots of data held on people is out of date or simply wrong.

It could make it much easier for Government departments to share [migrants’] details with other departments or private companies without [their] knowledge – let alone consent.  The Home Office could decide that sharing sensitive information to check everybody’s entitlement to healthcare, education or social housing was necessary for “effective immigration control,” for example.

It could also stop people finding out what information the Home Office holds about them – a right that’s vital for solicitors working to help people regularise their immigration status.

Liberty are calling on people to email their MPs to protest the bill and its clause creating a “two-tier data rights regime.” The 3Million and digital rights campaigners Open Rights Group, meanwhile, have threatened the government with a legal challenge, as The Guardian reports.

The two groups argue that in its current form, the data protection legislation is incompatible with the EU’s general data protection regulation (GDPR), as well as EU law generally and the European convention on human rights.

Rosa Curling, a human rights solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, which is acting on behalf of The 3Million and Open Rights Group, said to the Guardian:

“The immigration exemption creates a discriminatory two‐tier system for data protection rights. The clause is incompatible with GDPR, as well as EU law generally and the European convention on human rights. If the exemption is made law, our clients will apply for judicial review. They have written to the government today to urge it to reconsider and to remove the immigration exemption from the bill without further delay.”

Jim Killock, the ORG executive director, said: “This is an attempt to disguise the Home Office’s mistakes by making sure that their errors are never found. When people are wrongly told to leave, they would find it very hard to challenge.” Andrew Walker QC, the chair of the Bar Council of England and Wales, emphasised that requests for access to personal data held by authorities were often the only way people could find out crucial information about their immigration status, including why adverse decisions had been made about them by the Home Office.

The Labour MEP Claude Moraes, who chairs the European parliament’s civil liberties, justice and home affairs committee, is opposing the bill. In his words: “What is happening here is that the UK government, under the cover of the complexity of data protection law in particular, and its chaotic Brexit negotiations in general, is seeking to create damaging new discriminatory national immigration restrictions.”

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Fabien Cante

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