Digital rights campaigners Open Rights Group and the3million, the largest grassroots organisation of EU citizens in the UK, have both joined forced and called on the government not to strip the three million EU citizens living in the UK of their right to data protection.
Current proposals in the Data Protection Bill mean that an person subject to an immigration procedure wouldn't have this right, and would be unable to discover what personal data has been collected and held onto by private company and public authorities. Apparently this exemption would prevent people from being able to challenge any errors the Home Office makes, which aren't uncommon. Reports claim there are mistakes in every 1 in 10 cases.
Both groups note that the exemption doesn't just relate to organisations processing information related to immigration. It would also includes schools, doctors, landlords, hospitals, employers, and the DVLA, who currently hold some responsibility related to immigration control.
They claim that the proposals would lead to a two-tier system that uses immigration status as a measure of how their data is handled. With it, organisations would no longer be obliged to process immigrants' personal data lawfully, fairly, and transparently.
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."
This announcement also points out that this exact exemption was also proposed in 1983. It was rejected, though, because it was “a palpable fraud on the public”. There's no reason why it should go through now. Immigrant or not, people should be entitled to the same rights and freedoms - however limited they might feel sometimes.
The Data Protection Bill is currently set to go through the House of Lords on 11th or 13th December. There the Lords will vote on whether or not that exemption should be allowed to stay.