Civil liberties groups attack data protection clause

Claim that section of parliamentary bill would allow Home Office to take data for immigration control

Civil liberties campaigners have claimed the Home Office is poised to grab the power to access the personal data of millions of people for “immigration control” purposes.

Union Jack flag against skyA clause included in the Data Protection Bill creates an exemption to privacy rights when immigration investigations are carried out.

Paragraph 4, schedule 2 of the bill removes data protection rights for “the maintenance of effective immigration control” or “the investigation or detection of activities that would interfere with effective immigration control”.

The civil rights group Liberty has claimed the measure would create “two-tier, racially discriminatory” rules and called for Parliament to overturn the move.

Millions of migrants could have their personal information “corrected or erased” without knowing “who is processing their data, which data is being processed and why”, it warned.

The exemption is so broad that it could also draw in “volunteers running night shelters or food banks, or British citizens trying to access health services or education”, Liberty claimed.

Brazen border control

Martha Spurrier, the group’s director, said: “Even from a Government with a track record of fostering division and sanctioning discrimination, this is a particularly brazen expression of how low they will go to bring border control into our everyday lives, no matter the cost.

“The Government can’t be allowed to sneak this nakedly racist provision onto our law books. We urge the Lords to take it out of the bill.”

Satbir Singh, the chief executive of the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, said: “Why should migrants be denied the right to have their information processed lawfully, fairly and transparently?

“Bank accounts can be frozen, people can be denied healthcare or a place to live, based on errors that will never be corrected.”

A Government spokesman told The Independent that making data rules “fit for the digital age” involved “ensuring we support our criminal justice agencies and national security organisations”.

“The provisions in the Data Protection Bill will ensure, that while people’s rights relating to data are protected, day-to-day operations relating to immigration controls are not obstructed and individual rights are balanced against the wider interests of society,” he added.

Hostile environment

The inclusion of the clause follows growing controversy over what Theresa May, as home secretary, promised would be a “hostile environment” for migrants.

The NHS is required to release information about people suspected of breaking immigration rules, allowing thousands of people to be traced every year. And there was uproar when it was revealed that schools are recording every pupil’s country of birth, turning school administrators into “border guards”, it was claimed.

The Department for Education passed on details of 1,500 children a month for immigration enforcement, before the Home Office was forced to end the arrangement.

Arrangements to share data also exist between the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions and HM Revenue and Customs but are shrouded in secrecy, Liberty said.

Image by Dean Williams, CC by 2.0 via Flickr