Newsletter: Immigration, Data and Technology

Happy New Year! We hope that this newsletter finds you healthy, safe and well. Welcome to the first edition of Immigration, Data and Technology, a monthly newsletter from Open Rights Group aimed at keeping you informed on how technology and data are being used in the development and implementation of UK immigration policy.

Governments are increasingly relying on digital technology to control migration. Therefore it’s becoming more and more important to understand what this means for the migrants’ rights sector and those they are advocating for. This is the first step in addressing the impact of data, privacy and new technologies on immigration policy.

Last year we consulted with migrants’ rights organisations on their needs and capacities to respond to immigration, data and technology. Through a survey and conversations we were able to learn what the main priority areas for the migrants’ rights sector are and the types of support that they felt are needed to better respond to these issues.

In this newsletter, you’ll find information on recent developments and opportunities to work together to tackle these issues, upcoming events and useful resources that we come across to help navigate the role of technology in the migrants’ rights sector. We want this newsletter to be valuable for you so please share your feedback and suggestions to help us improve. Please share with interested colleagues and/or other organisations who may want to know more about the impact of data and technology on migrants’ rights.

What we worked on in 2020

Immigration, Data and Technology: Needs and Capacities of the Immigration Sector report

Last year, we launched a survey with Privacy International to identify the needs and capacities of migrants’ rights organisations to respond to data, privacy and the use of new technologies. The results of the survey and conversations with organisations in the sector culminated in Immigration, Data and Technology: Needs and Capacities of the Immigration Sector which was published in December. The report details our findings and recommendations on how to increase the capacity of the migrants’ rights sector and areas for future work.


The COVID-19 pandemic has seen a rapid rise in the use of digital technologies that have been mobilised as part of the public health response not only in the UK but globally. Digital technologies have an important role to play in the response to the pandemic and the future of public health. However, they also have significant implications for human rights especially for migrants and refugees who are in vulnerable situations.

We published several blogs on our website highlighting the data sharing and privacy issues around contact tracing and ‘immunity passports’ and concerns that the NHSX App would not be used by migrants due to the impact of the Hostile Environment. We also wrote an open letter to the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care and the Home Secretaryexpressing concerns about the government’s approach to contact tracing. 

We continue to keep a close eye on this issue.

National Data Strategy

In September, the government launched its National Data Strategy. We wrote about how the strategy will affect migrants and refugees and coordinated a migrants’ rights sector response to it. This involved connecting migrants’ rights organisations to Rachel Coldicutt, a responsible technologist to learn more about how the strategy will affect the community and social sector, and writing an open letter to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports expressing concerns about how the National Data Strategy is likely to impact migrants and refugees. The letter had 14 signatories that included migrants’ rights organisations and immigration lawyers.

Campaigns Update

Immigration Exemption in Court 23 and 24 February

In 2017, ORG joined with the3million to launch a campaign for the removal of the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Bill. When the exemption became law in 2018 as part of the Data Protection Act we brought a court challenge against the government’s decision to restrict the data protection rights of citizens. While we were disappointed with the ruling at the High Court we were quickly granted the right to an appeal. We are currently awaiting our appeal to be heard which is scheduled for the 23 and 24 February. We continue our fight to persuade the Court that the immigration exemption breaches fundamental rights. More information about this campaign can be found here.

Tools, Publications and Resources

We’ve compiled some resources to help those working for migrants’ rights and their clients better understand data, privacy and technology issues. Some of these have been created by ORG, some by other privacy rights organisations and others in collaboration with migrants’ rights organisations.

Open Rights Group | Immigration, Data and Technology: Needs and Capacities of the Immigration Sector

Free Movement | Comment: why the migrants’ rights sector should care about big data

Migrants Rights Network | Know Your Rights Guide 2020

Privacy International | A guide for migrants and asylum rights organisations about privacy settings

Save the Date!

Wednesday 17 February – online

As part of our campaign for the removal of the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018, we will be holding a briefing ahead of our appeal hearing. This is an opportunity to learn more about the campaign and to ask questions. If you’d like to attend, please email:

Thanks for reading! We look forward to supporting the sector to champion the digital and privacy rights of migrants and refugees.


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