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Campaigners call for immigration exemption in UK's Data Protection Act to be scrapped

Judicial review into law launched

Campaign groups have today launched a legal challenge against an exemption in the UK's Data Protection Act that could prevent citizens gaining access to immigration data held on them.

The Open Rights Group and EU citizens' group, the3million, have argued that, as it stands, many people would not be able to access data that the Home Office holds on them – information which is often crucial when applying for a new immigration status.

After successfully crowdfunding for the cash to bring the case, the3million said a judicial review had been launched today.

The specific issue is with an exemption for immigration (schedule 2, part 1, paragraph 4), which removes some data rights if that data is processed for the "maintenance of effective immigration control", or if it is deemed likely to prejudice that.

That includes the right to access data, to restrict processing, to object to processing and the right to erasure, which are provided for in the General Data Protection Regulation.

As well as arguing that "immigration control" has been poorly defined in the act, the groups have claimed that the exemption creates an imbalance in different groups' data rights.

It also prevents people – whether that is the EU citizens living in the UK after Brexit or those involved in the next Windrush scandal – gaining the information they need to appeal government decisions related to immigration status.

For instance, lawyers handling appeals for asylum seekers often rely on this right to access in order to get hold of people's immigration histories and challenge the Home Office's decision.

And, as the3million pointed out, the Home Office doesn't have a proven track record of handling immigration cases accurately.

"According to the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, the Home Office has a 10 per cent error rate in immigration status checks," the group said.

"This exemption would allow these mistakes to go unchallenged. These errors could lead to an application being refused or even deportation."

The judicial review seeks to have this exemption removed from the act, on the grounds that it is incompatible with the GDPR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. ®

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