March 05, 2018 | Jim Killock

The Data Protection Bill's Immigration Exemption must go

The Data Protection Bill is meant to be a major advance for privacy – unless you are trying exercise your legal right to live in the UK. Jim Killock, Executive Director, writes about why Data Protection is vital.

The government has introduced a sweeping “immigration exemption” in Schedule 2, Paragraph 4. The exemption will remove your right to data protection if it is likely to prejudice “effective immigration control” or the “investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control”. What it won’t do is ensure effective immigration control.

This immigration exemption will ensure that the Government will not need to face up to its mistakes. Currently, according to the Government’s Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, mistakes and administrative errors are involved in 1 out of 10 immigration cases.

What’s it like to one of those 1 in 10? You can ask any one of the hundred EU citizens, living in the UK entirely legally, who were sent letters demanding they leave or risk deportation in August last year.

Or speak to Mustafa Ali Baig. He corrected an error in an old tax return, and the Home Office marked him down as an undesirable and gave him 14 days to leave the UK. Mustafa had paid the correct amount of tax, and he has no criminal record, he is being punished for being honest.  

Mustafa is able to challenge these Home Office mistakes, because he had the right to check the data the Government had on him, and is taking them to court. He was able to find out why the Government considered him undesirable. If the Government has its way, and Parliament make this exemption law, that won’t be an option in the future. 

The Government’s creation of a so-called ‘hostile environment’ for immigrants exacerbates all these concerns. From your patient records to your local food bank, the sheer amount of data that will now be subject to these checks is unfathomable. The Government has already set out plans to check through 70 million bank accounts to make sure the account holders are in the UK legally, and freeze the funds if not. The Government’s historic incompetence combined with a new inability for people to fact check them means that mistakes that get made could take years to sort out, causing untold damage and misery.

This exemption removes the obligation on the Government to process personal information fairly and transparently and would severely undermine important rights for millions of people living in the UK. 

The Data Protection Bill is supposed to protect your data, but this immigration exemption ensures it will do anything but. It is vital that MPs take action, and ensure Schedule 2, Paragraph 4 never receives Royal Assent.