What exactly will the Home Office do with the 3 million's private data?

Sensitive data: The Home Office won't specify what it wants to do with EU citizens' information
Sensitive data: The Home Office won't specify what it wants to do with EU citizens' information

By Hedwig Hegtermans

A few days ago I applied for settled status. In order to do so, I needed to download the app from the Home Office and then agree to the terms and conditions and the privacy policy. This is pretty standard and to be expected. But this was different. Your agreement is a condition of being able to stay in the UK. We are being asked to give away our personal data to immigration enforcement or else risk our status in the UK.

If you don't click the OK button by the privacy policy, you can't continue filling out the form. That has severe implications. Without settled status, we will eventually become undocumented. That means we fall into the Home Office's Hostile Environment culture.

What really got my alarm bells ringing is this sentence under the privacy policy heading: "We may also share your information with other public and private sector organisations in the UK and overseas."


I am in general quite protective of my data and often do not give others permission to use it. But this is not like opening an email account or buying something online. I really have no choice but to use it.

So what to do? It would help if I knew who these organisations are. After all, we're talking about very personal information here: passport details, face scanning, a photo, our national insurance number, and whatever extra evidence we decide to include, like bank or council tax statements.

I called the helpline to get extra information. The operators are very kind and understanding, but they've never heard of this privacy policy. After checking with the quality assurance team, they told me that if I had concerns I could send an email to the data protection officer at the Cabinet Office, or the information commissioner.

I was also told that I didn't need to worry as the Home Office is GDPR compliant. This is not particularly reassuring, because the GDPR has an exemption clause for data relating to immigration control. The help line wasn't aware of this. They tried to reassure me that the Home Office only wanted to share the data with government-related organisations to check whether there is any reason to refuse applications. Basically they're suggesting that it's there for cross referencing on criminal records. But when EU migrant pressure group the3million used freedom of information to ask exactly who would have access to this data, the Home Office refused the request.

I decided to apply for settled status anyway, because I want to be able to become a British citizen as soon as possible and this seems the safest route. Throughout the application process I was kindly reminded that the Home Office is GDPR compliant with links to let me check this is the case.

I decided to only give them the least sensitive information I could, so I went through my old energy bills and used them as evidence. There's still the passport scan of course, but at least this way I can manage the risk a bit.

Still I feel uneasy about giving permission for anyone in the Home Office, now and in the future, to share all this personal data. I know people who for this very reason are not yet applying for settled status. But in the end we'll all be forced to agree, because that's the only way we can continue to live in the UK legally. It's tantamount to blackmail.

Hedwig Hegtermans is a Dutch citizen living in the UK since 2001. She campaigns with the3million for the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe. You can follow her here.

The opinions in politics.co.uk's Comment and Analysis section are those of the author and are no reflection of the views of the website or its owners.

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