Formal legal action has been launched against the UK Government today over the inclusion of a specific clause in the new Data Protection Bill which means at least three million people across the country would be unable to find out what personal data the Home Office or other related organisations hold on them under a clause the government claims is needed for ‘effective immigration control’.
Lawyers from Leigh Day, who are acting on behalf of the3million ‐ the largest grassroots organisation of EU citizens living in the UK ‐ and the Open Rights Group (ORG) ‐ the UK's only digital campaigning organisation working to protect the rights to privacy and free speech online ‐ have written to Home Secretary Amber Rudd outlining their concerns and asking for the clause to be removed from the bill.
The3million and ORG are very concerned by the proposed inclusion of the exemption clause, which if it remains, would represent the first time that an immigration exemption has been included in UK data protection laws.
Both groups argue the exemption clause is incompatible with the principles of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which the bill is designed to implement. Leigh Day’s clients believe the bill, which is intended to strengthen people’s data rights, will have the opposite effect and will create a discriminatory two-tier system.
The bill is due to be heard in the House of Commons today.
ORG and the the3million are calling on those who support the campaign to write to their MPs, using the form at openrightsgroup.org, to tell them that the immigration exemption must go.
Rosa Curling, a human rights solicitor from law firm Leigh Day, who are acting on behalf of the3million and ORG, said:
"The immigration exemption creates a discriminatory two-tier system for data protection rights. The clause is incompatible with GDPR, as well as EU law generally and the European Convention on Human Rights. If the exemption is made law, our clients will apply for judicial review. They have written to the government today to urge it to reconsider and to remove the immigration exemption from the bill without further delay."
Jim Killock, Executive Director of Open Rights Group, said:
"This is an attempt to disguise the Home Office's mistakes by making sure that their errors are never found. When people are wrongly told to leave, they would find it very hard to challenge.
"Data protection is a basic safeguard to make sure you can find out what organisations know about you, and why they make decisions. Sometimes, during criminal investigations, that isn't appropriate: but immigrants aren't criminals, nor should they be treated as such."
Nicolas Hatton, Chairman of the3million, said:
"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."