Open Rights Group and the3million tell Government immigration exemption must be removed

The Government’s proposals found in the Data Protection Bill would remove the right of individuals subject to an immigration procedure to discover what personal data companies and public authorities hold on them. The House of Lords will vote on the Bill next week on 11 or 13 December to decide whether to remove the proposed exemption.

The sweeping exemption would prevent people from being able to challenge Home Office errors, which are common in immigration cases – the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration reports mistakes in 1 in 10 cases.

The exemption is much broader than just data held by the Home Office, covering any organisation processing information that is used in relation to immigration controls. The current immigration regime extends the responsibility to control immigration to schools, GPs, hospitals, landlords, employers, and even the DVLA. The exemption would create a two-tier system in how these institutions handle people’s data based on their immigration status. 

Currently there is an obligation on public authorities and companies to process personal data lawfully, fairly and in a transparent manner. This obligation would no longer apply in relation to immigrants, should this exemption pass. 

Jim Killock, Open Rights Group said:

“People need to know how they are being judged, and what information is being used in their immigration and residency claims. With the imminent need for millions of current UK residents needing to prove their right to remain, barring them from seeing the emails, forms, claims and assessments that may lead up to a decision is a recipe for disaster. It could make the residency rights being offered to EU citizens in the Brexit negotiations meaningless if the Home Office makes a mistake in your claim.”

Nicolas Hatton of the3million said:

“This new immigration exemption will mean that EU citizens living in the UK on Brexit day will have less access to their personal data than UK citizens. The UK government has proposed setting up a new registration system for EU citizens after the UK leaves the EU, and this will potentially create a database with the personal details of over three million people. We need safeguards in place to ensure that these citizens have access to the information held about them, so they are able to appeal Home Office decisions or correct mistakes. 

Everyone should be entitled to know how the Home Office and other government agencies are using their records, and that is why we want this exemption removed.”

Notes for editors

2 A similar blanket exemption was put forward by the Home Office in 1983, when it was rejected for being “a palpable fraud on the public”.