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Royal Courts Of Justice

High Court to hear judicial review of the immigration exemption for data protection rights

A judicial review of the government's immigration exemption for data protection rights will be heard at the High Court in London on Tuesday 23 and Wednesday 24 July 2019.

Posted on 22 July 2019

At this crucial time we need an immigration system that treats all parties fairly, this exemption tips the scales too much in favour of the powerful and leaves many powerless.”

Matthew Rice, Open Rights Group

The legal challenge has been brought by the Open Rights Group and the3million who argue that the immigration exemption, which passed into law in May 2018 as part of the Data Protection Act 2018, is unlawful.
The immigration exemption allows the Home Office, and other organisations or companies involved in “immigration control” to refuse access to personal data held about individuals if it might prejudice “effective immigration control”.
The immigration exemption affects the three million EU citizens who will have to submit their applications for a new immigration status after Brexit. It also affects anyone who has dealings with the Home Office, other state bodies and several companies who are involved in “immigration control”, such as those seeking refuge in the UK and those impacted by the Windrush scandal.
By blocking access to data, the groups argue that mistakes by the Home Office will go unchecked, important decisions about an individual’s immigration status could be made based on incorrect or incomplete information and it could even lead to wrongful deportations. This is of particular concern given that the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration has acknowledged the Home Office has a ten percent error rate in immigration status checks.
Both organisations argue that the exemption is unlawful because it amounts to an unlawful, unnecessary and disproportionate interference with fundamental data protection rights.
Matthew Rice, Open Rights Group, said:
"The fundamental right to data protection includes a right to access information held about you. The immigration exemption removes that right for millions of people for the vague purpose of effective immigration control. This restriction is available to all data controllers, it could be your school, your Doctor, your local authority or your employer that exercise the exemption and restricts your access to your data while continuing to share it with the Government for immigration enforcement. 
“This is against human rights standards and we are seeking that the exemption is removed, or restricted in its scope. At this crucial time we need an immigration system that treats all parties fairly, this exemption tips the scales too much in favour of the powerful and leaves many powerless.”

Co-founder of the3million Maike Bohn says: 

“EU citizens will need their personal records to prove that they are entitled to live in the UK. They need to know how the Home Office and other government agencies are using those records so they can call out mistakes that could have disastrous consequences for their lives. That is why we support removing this shocking exemption.”

Rosa Curling, solicitor at Leigh Day, said:

“We look forward to presenting this case to the High Court on behalf of our clients. The discriminatory, two tier data protection regime created by our government is unlawful and we hope the Court will agree it must be reconsidered on an urgent basis. Individuals must have access to their personal data so they know what information is held about them by the Home Office and others, how this information is being processed and shared and to allow them to correct any errors made. Without access to the data, their right to rectify is meaningless.”