EU Citizens Denied Right to Access Personal Data

European rights campaign group, the3million, have lost a High Court legal case which they believe will have damaging consequences for EU citizens hoping to be awarded ‘settled status’ in the UK.

Settled status is an EU Settlement Scheme that all EU citizens wanting to remain living in the UK after 30 June 2021 must apply to according to the UK’s current post-Brexit policy.

The3million, a campaign organisation defending the rights of European people in the UK, filed the case against the Home Secretary and the Culture Secretary in conjunction with The Open Rights Group, a digital rights organisation. The activist groups aimed to challenge laws that prevent EU citizens living in the United Kingdom from accessing information that the UK Home Office holds about EU citizens in the UK.

By questioning the exemption clause in the Data Protection Act (DPA), as introduced in 2018, the challengers had hoped that such an exemption would be found unlawful and EU citizens would be granted the rights to view their personal information as held by the Home Office. The groups argued that the exemption was not compatible with the GDPR and the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.

Mr Justice Supperstone did not rule in the organisation’s favour, deeming the exemption to be lawful. Justice Supperstone acknowledged the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration’s statement that a 10 per cent error rate in immigration status checks exists, a fact the3million had also raised.

The EU citizens’ rights organisation said prior to the proceedings:

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

Justice Supperstone believed the DPA had effective ways to correct errors should they occur. Justice Supperstone acknowledged that a “particular concern” exists in European communities living in Britain because of their potential impending application for settled status and that this exemption meant they were without full access to the data needed to make a successful application.

The ruling means many cannot access data they may need when applying for a new immigration status. Individuals will not be able to easily appeal any decisions made about their immigration status due to being prevented from accessing the data.

Labour MEP Claude Moraes tweeted in solidarity with both organisations, saying: “Surprised [and] saddened by this judgement on the immigration exemption to the UK Data Protection Act, which denies people the right to access their personal records in immigration cases.”

Open Rights Group and the3million said in a joint statement:

“We still believe that the immigration exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018 as it stands breaches fundamental rights. It is a blunt instrument, poorly defined and ripe for abuse.”

Rosa Curling of Leigh Day law firm, the groups’ legal representative, said: “Millions of people are already feeling uncertain and anxious about their immigration status as we approach Brexit, and our clients feel that the immigration exemption adds a further layer of uncertainty by removing transparency and the opportunity to correct mistakes in the immigration system.”

[Image credit: https://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2012/12/13/the-future-of-the-eu-a-view-from-the-uk/]