Digital Privacy

Why Migrants Need Digital Sanctuary

When individuals migrate, their data migrates with them. When people leave their countries to travel and live in different places whether as migrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, they are not only seeking physical safety, they also need to be sure that their digital identity and information will be safe.

However, if they are not careful or protected, their data could unwittingly leave a trail of their movements, potentially exposing them to various threats. Whether they are fleeing war, authoritarian regimes, or other adversaries, this data could inadvertently connect their identities to their pursuers.

Migrants should enjoy the same human rights as everyone else, including digital rights protected by similar principles. This is what we call Digital Sanctuary.

What do migrants think?

Last year, Positive Action in Housing (PAIH) and Open Rights Group collaborated to assess the fears, needs and knowledge of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers regarding their digital rights through a survey within the PAIH community.

The survey revealed that 66% of the sample group expressed concerns that the UK government would share their data with third parties. Meanwhile, 68% were unaware of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill, currently in Parliament, which will impact their data rights.

The survey numbers reflected the distrust between migrants and the government, particularly over how the government handles their data. It raises questions about why their information is being shared and whether it’s done properly and securely.

“[Sharing data online] is not safe for us, because we are not safe from where we came from.”

Respondent to the Migrant Digital Rights Survey

The survey also revealed a gap in the information and knowledge of migrants regarding keeping their data safe, such as choosing strong passwords to protect their online accounts, or using secure search browsers while browsing the Internet.

Migrants, refugees and asylum seekers who participated in this survey explicitly expressed their concerns regarding data sharing without consent. They emphasised the need for strong safeguards for their personal information.

Many respondents highlighted their lack of control or understanding about how their data is used or shared. This lack of transparency has led to apprehension, fear of misuse, and distrust. Some participants were also aware of the risk of digital identity theft. Additionally, they expressed concern that sharing their information without consent or proper safeguarding could compromise their safety by disclosing their whereabouts.

“Asylum Seekers must lay themselves bare, providing data that indirectly strip them off any right to privacy, just for them to stand the slightest chance of seeming credible.”

Respondent to the Migrant Digital Rights Survey

Migrants are often deprived of rights

While the principles of the digital sanctuary seem straightforward and direct, many, including migrants themselves, may not be aware that they do not have the same rights protecting their data as others.

In theory, migrants have the same rights as everyone else in the UK. However, in practice, they are often deprived of these rights, especially undocumented individuals or people in immigration detention. For example, the UK subjected asylum seekers to GPS tag ankles to get out of their detention centres, a policy which was found to be unlawful.

Despite this, the Home Office still subjects asylum seekers to these practices.

Another example of migrants not enjoying the same digital rights as others is the barriers they face in accessing online services due to digital or language barriers and the lack of required documentation online.

Many migrants and asylum seekers cannot fully exercise their rights, as it depends on their individual circumstances, skills, and legal status.

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