A group of migrants’ rights organisations and privacy advocates have written to Oliver Dowden, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports, to raise concerns over the National Data Strategy.
Currently, advocates warn, the new strategy is likely to negatively impact migrants and refugees seeking shelter in the UK. The National Data Strategy provides a framework for how the government is going to drive the UK in building a world-leading data economy while ensuring public trust in data use.
Organised by the Open Rights Group, the letter argues that without “robust measures and safeguards” to protect the public and mitigate against risks – as well as an effective redress mechanism – the particular vulnerabilities migrants and refugees already face could be compounded.
The letter acknowledges that although data can play an important role in solving social and economic issues, it can also have a negative impact on some of society’s most vulnerable and marginalised demographics.
The letter calls on the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports to recognise that sharing the personal data of those who are already marginalised and excluded, without clear safeguards or boundaries exacerbates exclusion and risks deterring migrant communities from accessing basic services.
It also calls for meaningful engagement with migrants’ rights organisations and those with personal, lived experiences so that they can participate in order to avoid entrenching inequality and discrimination.
Sahdya Darr, Immigration Policy Manager at Open Rights Group said: “It is important that the National Data Strategy works for everyone and is used to build a more inclusive society.
“Unfortunately, we have already seen migrants and refugees harmed by secret data-sharing deals, reliance on incorrect data and visa algorithms discriminating on the basis of nationality which have not only eroded trust between the government and migrant communities but caused immense harm.
“For these reasons, the government must ensure that the National Data Strategy makes clear how it will treat personal data lawfully, fairly and transparently.”
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Chai Patel, Legal Policy Director from the Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants (JCWI) said: “Hostile Environment data sharing stops people from seeking help when they most desperately need it and makes us all unsafe. We now live in a country where migrants who report crimes, even as traumatic as rape or serious violence, have to fear their information being handed over to Immigration Enforcement and used against them.
“None of us want people to be too frightened to go to the police, so we need to make it safe for people to come forward as witnesses or victims.”
The Co-signatories are: After Exploitation, Bristol Refugee Rights, City of Sanctuary, Focus on Labour Exploitation, Joint Council for the Welfare of Immigrants, Kalayaan, Migrants’ Rights Network, Migrant Voice, Open Rights Group, Praxis, Project 17, Reading Refugee Support Group, the3million, Dr John Campbell (Refugee Legal Group UK), Judith Carter (Refugee Legal Group UK), Mandeep Duhra (Refugee Legal Group UK).