The Home Office’s demands for schools’ census data may be a breach of human rights and data protection rights. They have requested information for some 2,500 children in relation to immigration enforcement over the past 15 months.
This in itself is a pretty sensitive subject off the back of the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union. But equally as important is the fact that this request may actually be a breach of people’s rights.
The Home Office’s request for the data has not come without challenge, and is expected to be debated in the House of Lords. There is a clear argument that the challenges will be successful as the Home Office have been accused of racial profiling through gathering the data, and there is a growing fear that ‘teachers will turn into border guards’.
This may be the case if parents filled in the consensus data questionnaire, which is in fact non-mandatory.
The data protection issue is of great concern. What gives the Home Office rights to process the information in a way that could also be infringing on the children and their family’s human rights? The Home Office has indicated that the information would be used for immigration enforcement, but, prior to the request for the information, they stand accused of failing to gain proper consent from the data subjects: i.e., the children or their guardians.
Data Protection Act
As owners of our data, we have the right to use our personal data in any way we like. In the U.K. we are protected by the Data Protection Act. The Act is an important piece of legislation that has served the best interests of individuals in the U.K. It places a burden on organisations and companies to comply with the eight data protection principles that stipulates their responsibility in protecting their customers’ personal information.
The Data Protection Act enforcement body, the Information Commissioner’s Office, has the authority to impose financial penalties under EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) guidelines, as well as our own domestic laws. If the ICO finds an organisation to be in breach of data protection principles, they can be subject to huge penalties of up to £500,000.
The ICO’s role is crucial for clamping down on non-compliant organisations. Over a six year period, the ICO has imposed fluctuating fines with 2015 being a spike in the statistics where 18 fines totalling over £2 million were imposed.
Schools ministers said that requests were made over a 15 month period, with requests totalling around 2,500. The Department for Education highlighted the importance of privacy, and insisted that the sensitive data is controlled. As the information is regarding children under eighteen years of age, there can be more pressure to protect their data.
To address the potential data breach, the school system minister said that any new data would be held separately to the national pupil database to prevent any unauthorised access, such as from other departments. But this has attracted criticism from Jen Persson, who is a campaigner for defendingdigitalme. She said that this just highlights the fact that the database was not safe beforehand.
It is worrying that we do not always know where our data is stored, and how it has been used.
Shouldn’t the Government be protecting our privacy rights?
It is time that the Government took a genuine interest in our data protection, instead of passing it around like a hot plate.
IMPORTANT: advice on this page is intended to be up-to-date for the 'first published date'.
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