The Home Office has been testing the use of APIs on other government departments’ databases as part of its registration scheme for EU citizens – and has indicated that it aims to extend their use under a new project.
Managers of the Borders, Immigration and Citizenship System (BICS) have provided details of the initiative for a report by the independent chief inspector of borders and immigration on how it is working with other departments and agencies.
The report refers to trials in the use of APIs to search for agreed items of data held by HM Revenue & Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions to support the EU citizens’ registration scheme, which has been running in beta phase since August.
In addition, it says the Home Office’s Digital, Data and Technology directorate is running a Status Checking Project, under which there is a longer term ambition to combine multiple APIs in a system that obtains and shares an individual’s immigration status in real time with authorises users. This could provide proof of entitlement to a range of public and private services.
A digital status check on the right to work in the UK went live in April of last year, enabling biometric resident permit holders to check their status and share it securely with an employer.
Among the possibilities for the future are services for landlords to check on a potential tenants’ right to rent property, and for law enforcement officers to check a person’s right to hold a UK driving licence.
The Home Office indicated that the project does not currently involve obtaining data from other organisations’ systems, but it is intended that it will support more automated data sharing between departments. It added that this will only take place where the appropriate legal gateways and safeguards are in place.
A spokesperson said: “The status checking project is developing digital services to make data held by the Home Office more accessible and transparent to the people to whom it relates, and enable the sharing of that information in a more effective and efficient way.
“The first service developed enables individuals to control who they share their information with and gives them the opportunity to challenge information they believe to be incorrect.
“We take our data protection obligations very seriously, and all Home Office activity must be compliant with data protection legislation.”
The move has prompted alarm in some quarters about the possible civil liberties implications.
Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott was quoted on BuzzFeedNews as saying: “Giving landlords and employers the tools to act as border guards is part and parcel of the Tories hostile environment policies. But the dangers of database sharing without proper scrutiny, could lead to the same discriminatory mistakes that saw Windrush citizens wrongly labelled as illegal and threatened with deportation.”
There have been earlier protests about the right to subject access requests being withheld in immigration cases. The Home Office said it would only apply the exemption to withhold the information “where necessary and proportionate” in cases where releasing it could undermine immigration controls.
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