Government faces legal challenge over immigrant data rights

Activist groups accuse the government of creating a ‘two-tier system’ of data rights to the detriment of immigrants

Visual representation of GDPR and the UK's independence from the EU

The Open Rights Group (ORG) has launched a legal challenge against the UK government over a clause in the Data Protection Act (DPA) 2018, which they say will deprive immigrants of equitable data rights.

Launched with campaign group the3million, a judicial review will argue that an exemption inserted into the DPA undermines the European Union's General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) by creating a 'two-tier system' to the detriment of foreign nationals.

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The groups argue this exemption will remove the right for people going through the UK immigration process to access their own personal data - and effectively use this information to themselves challenge any errors the Home Office makes.

The new exemption, according to ORG, applies to a wide range of public and non-governmental bodies including the NHS, employers, banks and landlords - effectively creating a two-tier system of data rights for UK nationals, and immigrants.

"The Government's 'hostile environment' may have been renamed, but its policies are clearly still here," said ORG's executive director Jim Killock. "Restricting the rights of millions to their personal data in immigration processes risks inaccurate data being used to make life altering decisions. ORG can't allow that to pass without challenge."

The judicial review follows a crowdfunding effort set up by the3million co-founder Nicholas Hatton earlier this year - in which the organisations raised 40,000, surpassing their target by more than 10,000 - to support their potential legal costs. 

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After failing to persuade the government to remove the clause, the campaigners have now resorted to the courts to remove a feature they argue "would unnecessarily restrict the rights of millions of people across the country for the purpose of 'effective immigration control'."

The judicial review will be supported by law firm Leigh Day.

"the3million and ORG''s legal challenge matters to all 3.6 million EU citizens - who will have to apply for settled status to stay in their own homes after Brexit," Hatton said, adding: "No applicant should be prevented from accessing the data the Home Office holds about them."

ORG has played an active part in campaigning for changes to how digital and privacy rights are managed and enforced across the UK - with its role over the last few years increasing in prominence. Last week, the group challenged the UK government to follow Scotland's footsteps in promising to immediately delete mugshots by the end of the legal retention period.

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Fellow civil rights groups have been working parallel to ORG to influence and change government policy, including Big Brother Watch, which last month issued legal proceedings against the Met police's use of facial recognition technology. The Investigatory Powers Act has also been the subject of anger from such groups, with Liberty last year raising more than 50,000 towards fighting the intrusion of privacy the law's "bulk surveillance" facilitates.

IT Pro approached the Home Office for comment, but yet to get a response.

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