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Judges to review exemption to data protection law

21/01/19

Parliamentary Correspondent

A controversial law that prevents some people obtaining government-held data about themselves will be the subject of a judicial review.

'Data protection' button on keyboard

An organisation championing the rights of EU citizens in the UK has won the first stage of a High Court challenge over the ‘immigration exemption’ introduced in last year’s Data Protection Act.

Last week Mr Justice Ouseley granted permission for a judicial review, saying there was “force” on both sides of the argument which should be aired at a full hearing.

The3million group has claimed the exemption – which blocks subject access requests in immigration cases – is unlawful and will prevent people from challenging errors made by the Home Office.

It came into force last May despite both the Law Society and the Bar Council protesting that ministers were risking a repeat of the Windrush scandal. They warned it would lead to people being wrongly deported or denied health treatment, in a mirror image of the treatment of the Windrush generation of immigrants from the Caribbean.

MPs approved the change in a vote last April, despite the warnings that allowing it to go through would make them “complicit in future injustices”.

The case, against the home secretary and the secretary of state for digital, culture, media and sport, is also being brought by digital campaigners Open Rights Group.

Nicolas Hatton of the3million said: “If over three million EU citizens are going to apply for settled status, they must be able to do so knowing it's safe for them to do it, with the right to see what the Home Office is doing with their data.

"Not only does this exemption go against the very purpose of the Data Protection Act (which means to protect us from data abuse from those holding our data), but it also reinforces suspicion that the Home Office has something to hide.”

Matthew Rice, of the Open Rights Group said: “The exemption undermines the fundamental right to data protection of millions across the UK and we will be seeking removal of the exemption from the act in its entirety.”

Lawyers for the Home Office contend the exemption is compatible with EU data regulations and charter rights.

Image from iStock, abluecup

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