Law Society leads protest against data law change
Lawyers’ organisation points to potential injustices in Home Office being able to block subject access requests
Tens of thousands of people every year obtain government held data about themselves under a power soon to be controversially curtailed, new figures show.
The Law Society has led protests that the Data Protection Act will block “subject access requests” if the release of files would “undermine immigration control”.
The exemption would lead to people being wrongly deported or denied health treatment, it has warned – in a mirror image of the treatment of the Windrush generation.
Now the society has obtained figures from the Home Office revealing, for the first time, the extraordinary number of subject access requests made each year. There were 25,950 in 2016 alone and the annual tally has not fallen below 22,000 in any year since 2010.
The large number suggests that removing the right will have significant impact on people seeking to regularise their nationality or immigration status.
“Subject access requests are the final recourse for people trying to deal with a complex, opaque and unaccountable immigration system,” said Joe Egan, the society’s president. “New Home Office figures show tens of thousands of people every year are forced to submit requests simply to access information held about them.
“Now this last avenue has been removed, the large number of people who relied on this right will potentially be denied justice under this new law.”
The figures were obtained too late for a crucial Commons vote last month on the legislation, when a cross-party group of MPs failed to force the Government to drop the change.
As UKAuthority reported last October, it means data privacy rights, including the right to make access requests, will be removed for immigration investigations.
The Law Society has given the example of a man detained and threatened with deportation to Somalia, until he was able to use the request process to prove he was British.
“The lack of transparency in Home Office decision making has already led to the Windrush scandal. Instead of learning from those mistakes, the potential for another scandal has become even greater,” Egan added.
“Decisions which have a huge impact on people’s lives can now be made behind closed doors with no justification or accountability.”
A Home Office spokesperson said last month: “It is wrong to say that the proposed narrow exemption in the Data Protection Bill is an attempt to deny people access to their data.
“People will still be able to request data as they can now and will be met in all cases except where to do so could undermine our immigration control.”
Image by Dean Williams, CC by 2.0 via Flickr