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Police to stop sharing information on victims' immigration status as Liberty calls for an end to 'hostile environment' data-sharing agreements


New police guidance issued; Liberty report on immigration data-sharing between government departments

Date of Publication:
10 December 2018

Police to stop sharing information on victims' immigration status as Liberty calls for an end to 'hostile environment' data-sharing agreements

10 December 2018

The National Police Chiefs' Council (NPCC) announced on Friday that police chiefs have agreed new guidance on the sharing of information with Immigration Enforcement about victims of crime who are identified as being in the UK illegally.

According to the Guardian, it means police will no longer automatically pass information about people suspected of being in the country illegally to immigration authorities if they come forward as victims of crime.

Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer, the NPCC Lead for Immigration Crime, was quoted by the Guardian as explaining the reasoning behind the new policy: "There were some who perceived we were becoming part of that hostile environment. We had an inappropriate relationship with immigration enforcement whereby, by proxy, we were helping to kick people out of the country. … There were a handful of cases that showed the relationship was too close and could not be tolerated. We are not a branch of immigration enforcement; we deal with crime and vulnerability."

Sawyer said in a NPCC press release: "When someone reports a crime police will always, first and foremost, treat them as a victim … Police will never check a database only to establish a victim's immigration status ... The police priority is to protect victims and investigate crime, and we are extremely careful about doing anything to deter victims from reporting to us."

Sawyer added, however: "If an officer becomes aware that a victim of crime is suspected of being an illegal immigrant it is right that they should raise this with immigration enforcement officers and not take any immigration enforcement action themselves. Throughout the police should treat them as a victim of crime."

According to the Guardian, the civil liberties group Liberty were understood to be about to bring a challenge against police over the sharing of immigration information.

Last week, Liberty released an important new report looking at the data-sharing agreements between key government departments and the Home Office.

The 35-page report, Care Don't Share - Hostile environment data-sharing: why we need a firewall between essential public services and immigration enforcement, can be read here.

Liberty says the report was drawn from year-long research, interviews and freedom of information requests, and it shows in unprecedented detail how secretive agreements were made with the police and the departments of education and health to enable the sharing of people's personal data.

The report says the data-sharing agreements with the Home Office are part of the hostile environment's "sprawling web of immigration controls operating far from ports and border controls and in the heart of our public services and communities."

According to Liberty, the Home Office's known data-sharing agreements which are currently operating (or have recently operated) are with:

• the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) and NHS Digital with respect to patient medical records, (withdrawn November 2018);

• the Department for Education (DfE) with respect to children’s school records;

• Cifas (an anti-fraud agency) with respect to bank accounts;

• the DVLA with respect to driving licences;

• the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and HMRC with respect to employment records and welfare benefits, including child maintenance.

"When such practices proliferate without due regard for fundamental rights or their effect on other policy objectives, they run the risk of being counter-productive and potentially even harmful to individual people or groups, and especially when they are deployed in support of policy frameworks that already interfere with human rights and risk discrimination," Liberty warns.

The report states: "The negative impacts of its hostile environment data-sharing programme reach well beyond serious harm to undocumented migrants themselves, to affect migrants with regular status who live in a climate of uncertainty and fear and BAME [black and minority ethnic] people who end up viewed as objects of suspicion by workers meant to support them. Data-sharing and entitlement checks also clearly have an insidious effect on frontline workers in our public services and their professional values, and by undermining vital State functions such as the investigation and prevention of serious crime, the protection of public health, and the safeguarding and education of children, the society in which each of us lives."

Amongst the report's recommendations, Liberty says the Government should amend the Data Protection Act 2018 to remove the 'immigration control' exemption.

The report also recommends that 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.

To coincide with the release of the report, Liberty launched a "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" so that personal information collected by trusted public services will not be shared with the Home Office for immigration enforcement purposes.

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."