Brexit settled status fears: UK in privacy row over EU citizens’ data


LONDON — The UK government is refusing to reveal how it will use data collected from EU citizens applying to remain in the UK after Brexit, leading to fears that vulnerable groups could be deterred from applying.

There are around three million EU citizens living in the UK who are potentially eligible to remain.

However, the Home Office has refused multiple requests by campaigners for information on how it plans to use the information collected as part of its new “settled status” scheme.

This has led to fears among groups representing EU citizens in the UK, that some individuals could be denied the right to remain, or offered the wrong residency status, without being able to see the grounds on which the decision was made.

“As it stands, applicants receive no information how their data is being processed or stored, or how it might later be used. That is all putting barriers up to people who are feeling nervous about applying,” said a spokesperson for an organisation which campaigns for digital rights.

Campaigners fear that the lack of transparency risks deterring some applicants from applying to the system altogether, which is already one of the biggest concerns around the system.

“As it stands, applicants receive no information how their data is being processed or stored, or how it might later be used. That is all putting barriers up to people who are feeling nervous about applying,” said the spokesperson.

Privacy fears

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The Home Office has confirmed that it will take data from two other government departments — Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work & Pensions — which will be processed using an algorithm which will either accept or reject applicants.

However, the UK government has refused to publish details of how this cross-governmental automated checking will work, saying only that it will not retain data from other government departments that have been used to make the decision.

The so-called “memorandum of understanding” between the Home Office and HMRC also shows that the department will seek a wide range of information, some of which is not necessary to prove residency.

Transparency campaigners are pushing for the government to reveal how the data will be used.

“Unless there’s something very odd going on, it really wouldn’t be that difficult for the Home Office to publish far more information about how it has designed the system and the rationale it is using, as well as the individual data the applicants are being assessed on,” Philip Booth, a data transparency campaigner who published a report on data use in the the settled status scheme, told BI.

Campaigners also suggest that the Home Office scheme could be breaching official privacy rules and be unlawful.

“The EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) 2018 requires the Home Office to process data in a transparent manner,” the ORG said in a briefing.

“Making decisions in reliance on output from automated data checks without scrutinising these is likely to constitute unlawful delegation of powers,” the briefing said.

The Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association has also warned that vulnerable individuals who do not have documents or are unable to access those documents could be wrongly rejected by the Home Office.

Around 3.7 million EU citizens living in the UK will have to apply for the right to remain in the country after it leaves the EU under the settled status scheme. In order to qualify for settled status, applicants will need to have lived in the country for at least five years.

Those who have not will be granted pre-settled status and can subsequently be granted settled status once they have been resident for five years. The scheme is scheduled to be fully rolled out on March 30.

The Home Office did not respond to a request for comment by the time of publication.



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