Liberty launches “Care Don’t Share” campaign and report

04 December 2018

The full extent of backroom data-sharing deals between key government departments and the Home Office is revealed today in a new report by Liberty.

The report – drawn from year-long research, interviews and freedom of information requests - shows in unprecedented detail how, across the education, health and policing systems, secretive agreements were made to enable the sharing of people’s personal data.

This means private information belonging to thousands of people can be unknowingly used against them by immigration officials seeking to deport them or limit their access to important care as part of the Government’s “hostile environment” policy.

This includes:

  • The Department for Education (DfE) sharing children’s school records with immigration officials;
  • The Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) sharing NHS patient records;
  • The police passing on details of victims and witnesses of crime to Home Office immigration enforcement;
  • Embedded immigration officials sitting in on local authority interviews with families applying for vital state support (as revealed by Project 17);

The effect is that now many people, including children, are often too scared to access vital services, and that public sector workers are often unknowingly complicit in a system – made possible in part by discriminatory exemptions in data protection law - that deprives people of some of their most basic rights.

As a result, Liberty is today officially launching its “Care Don’t Share” campaign, which calls on public sectors workers, unions and members of the public to sign a pledge and support the creation of a data “firewall” - a cast-iron promise that personal information collected by trusted public services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

And we are not alone.

The National Education Union (NEU) – which, as the UK’s largest education union has over 450,000 teachers, lecturers, support staff and teaching assistants in its ranks – is standing with Liberty in calling for these practices to stop, claiming that these agreements “threaten the trust” between schools and communities.

The NEU is encouraging its members to support the pledge, so that they and the thousands of other UK public sector workers - who provide us all with the essential services and often care for those in greatest need - are not made complicit in undermining their own work.

Frontline service workers are often unaware of these agreements, and there has been inadequate parliamentary scrutiny and public debate.

Corey Stoughton, Advocacy Director at Liberty, said:

“Nobody should be too frightened to report a violent crime for fear they will be targeted and detained. No child should avoid school because they or their family might be deported.

“We must be able to trust our doctors, nurses, teachers, police officers and other public sector workers. And they must be able to do their jobs without unwittingly contributing to a ‘hostile environment’ that splits families, harms lives, and undermines some of our most basic values as a society.

“The Government must stop using our key public services as de facto border control agencies. It’s time to build a firewall, and let people get on with the jobs they signed up for.”

Amanda Brown, Assistant General Secretary, National Education Union, said:

“These data sharing agreements threaten the trust between schools, pupil and families.

“Schools should not be seen as part of a system that’s monitoring and checking up on people’s immigration status.

“We support Liberty’s firewall, and encourage people to sign the pledge.”

Data sharing for immigration enforcement breaches our rights – our recommendations

The effect of data-sharing, says the report, is to damage the very fabric of our society, and make public sector workers, who have dedicated their lives to caring for people from all walks of life, complicit in practices that run contrary to the reason they go to work each day. Trust is breached between teacher and pupil; witnesses and victims are discouraged from reporting crime.

As a result, data-sharing for immigration enforcement, and the incorporation of immigration functions into essential services is harmful to individuals and groups beyond those targeted directly by the policies in question, spilling over to people with settled immigration statuses, and people of black, Asian and minority ethnic descent.

The report, which features a wide-range of comments and interviews with representatives from Freed Voices, Room to Heal, Doctors of the World (DOTW) UK, Praxis, Latin American Women’s Rights Service (LAWRS), Every Child Protected Against Trafficking (ECPAT) UK, Bail for Immigration Detainees (BID), National Education Union and Pathway, makes recommendations across three areas of vital public services.

These recommendations include:

Education

  • The Department for Education (DfE) should commit to a firewall between its data and Home Office immigration enforcement. It should withdraw from the tracing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and make a public commitment not to re-enter any similar agreement in the future.
  • The DfE should delete nationality and country of birth data collected 2016 – 2018, which was collected from children and families effectively under false pretences and not for an educational purpose.

Policing

  • Individual police forces should commit to, and rapidly implement, a firewall between their interactions with victims and witnesses of crime and the data they hold on them, and Home Office immigration enforcement. They should not refer victims or witnesses of crime to the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.
  • The Government should approach undocumented immigration as a civil, rather than a criminal matter. The low-level immigration offences should be repealed.
  • The Home Office and police should significantly reduce their collaboration for immigration enforcement purposes. Infrastructure in police stations that undermines safe reporting of crime by undocumented victims and witnesses, including immigration officers in custody suites, should be dismantled.

Health

  • The Home Office and the DHSC should end the practice of charging migrants for healthcare, and associated data-sharing practices.
  • The Home Office should destroy and not use for any purpose the information obtained from the Secretary of State for Health or NHS Digital under the terms of the now defunct MOU.
  • NHS Digital and the DHSC should commit to a permanent firewall between personal data that they hold on patients and Home Office immigration enforcement.

Data protection

  • The Government should amend the Data Protection Act 2018 to remove the ‘immigration control’ exemption set out at Schedule 2, Part 1, paragraph 4.
  • The Government should reinstate immigration legal aid and appeal rights, as well as introducing internal quality assurance mechanisms into the Home Office to improve the quality of initial decisions on immigration claims.

Sign the #CareDontShare Firewall Pledge today