Digital Hostile Environments and The Dangers of the Data Protection and Digital Information Bill.

The Hostile Environment is propped up by a vast infrastructure of surveillance, and its tactics of fear and intimidation are increasingly digitised. Now, the Home Office has announced plans to operate a “fully digital system” for all migrants by 2024. To make matters worse, they are trying to push through a Bill that could strengthen the Hostile Environment’s data-sharing practice and make them harder to challenge.

Across some spheres of the internet and media, ‘The Data Protection and Digital Information Bill’ (DPDI), has been uncritically represented as aiming to enhance data protection practices and ensure the responsible handling of personal information. In reality, it removes protections that will affect us all and makes it harder to scrutinize and challenge data injustice. 

Not only does it loosen regulations around the kind of sharing and re-sharing of data that has been central to the Hostile Environment, but it also directly undermines the legal channels that allow individuals and organisations to hold state authorities and private corporations to account.

We are asking organisations and individuals to:

  1. Resist data injustice in the DPDI Bill with the Open Rights Group’s campaign pack;
  2. Resist the digital hostile environments the Bill emboldens by supporting or getting involved with the ‘Stop the Scan’ campaign.

To gain a comprehensive understanding, we recommend reading further to explore the dangers posed by the DPDI Bill and its potential impact on Digital Hostile Environments. Additionally, for a more detailed explanation of the actions discussed, please scroll down to the bottom of this blog where you will find further information.

To learn more about the implications of the DPDI Bill on Digital Hostile Environments, continue reading before checking the bottom of this blog for additional information on the mentioned actions.

Digital Hostile Environments

The Open Rights Group has undertaken significant efforts to bring attention to the alarming aspects of the DPDI Bill. Through their ‘Stop the Data Discrimination’ campaign, they actively oppose the Bill’s erosion of data protection rights, the unregulated authority it bestows upon governments and corporations, and its facilitation of data discrimination through biased algorithms that harm marginalised individuals and groups further marginalised by society.

At the Stop the Scan, we understand how vital this protest is. Strong data protection in the UK is a critical line of defense against government overreach and the continued weaponisation of technology against racialised and migrant communities. 

© Carson McDowell

We believe that the data rights of racialised and migrant communities are already inadequately protected. The data-sharing practices of the Hostile Environment are intrinsically unfair and have had  terrible consequences. People are forced to navigate a system where every move may be scrutinised and where your data can be weaponized against you when accessing essential services like healthcare, education and housing.This data sharing enables aggressive immigration enforcement, resulting in detentions, deportations, and family separation. To make matters worse, the Data Protection Act 2018 empowered the Home Office and private companies to reject individuals’ requests for accessing their personal data for “the maintenance of effective immigration control.”

As a consequence, migrants can be unjustly denied the ability to obtain and review information about themselves, hindering their capacity to address inaccuracies, challenge decisions, or seek appropriate legal recourse. This exemption perpetuates an unjust culture of barring migrants from access to their full rights. 

We see the culture’s ramifications with the handheld fingerprint scanners, notably piloted in the same year as the immigration control exemption came into force. Police officers can use mobile fingerprint scanners to remotely check a person’s fingerprint against immigration and law enforcement databases. This can happen in any public space – such roadsides, streets, parks and public events – and result in arrest or detention. As our report series shows, this does not keep our communities safe but subjects people to harassment, and fear-mongering tactics. Furthermore, mistakes have consistently been found in migration information putting people being stopped and scanned in very vulnerable situations.

Migrants deserve better data protection, and there is an urgent need to repair an unjust system and defend the rights already in place. We need robust laws that protect the data rights of all humans, and that provide us with the tools to challenge the data injustice we see take place.

Instead, the DPDI bill moves us in the opposite direction. If passed, the DPDI bill would gravely weaken the UK’s data protection framework. It waters down data subjects rights and empowers the Secretary of State with new undemocratic controls over data. To help illustrate the dangers posed,  The Open Rights Group has provided the below information to Stop the Scan in order to help us understand how all of these changes would impact police use of mobile biometrics and the resulting data. Read on to find out more.

DPDI Bill Impact

New exemptions for “national security” and “crime prevention”:

The DPDI Bill has added new exemptions for re-sharing data without consent, including vaguely defined purposes like “national security” and “crime prevention”. This would allow data collected in a ‘stop and scan’ to be re-shared more easily, and make it harder to challenge the government’s retention and re-purposing of data.

Changes to Chapter 3 Data Subjects Rights:

The Bill will create a new barrier for individuals attempting to exercise their basic rights over their own data e.g. 

  • Right of access, 
  • Right to erasure, 
  • Right to object to processing. 

It allows data controllers to refuse the exercise of such rights where the exercise is ‘vexatious or excessive’. This will impact organisations and individuals attempting to understand or challenge how their data has been collected and shared through police mobile biometric collection.

Changes to international data transfers:

The Bill empowers the Secretary of State to approve international data transfers with little regard to the existence of enforceable rights and effective remedies. This could allow transfers to countries where data protection is limited. Various national security and law enforcement bodies within the UK could also more easily re-share data with national security bodies in other countries.

Changes to Data Protection Impact Assessments (DPIAs):

Data Protection Impact Assessments require the government and businesses to analyse, identify and minimise the data protection risks of a project or plan before undertaking it. They are especially important in cases where the data being processed is likely to result in a high risk to the rights and freedoms of individuals (like police biometrics programmes). Despite this, the bill makes changes to DPIAs, reducing the requirements to conduct one before processing people’s data and removing the requirement to consult with individuals who might be impacted by the use of their data. It is critical to hear from individuals themselves about how the use of their data could negatively impact them. A loss of proper DPIAs also makes it harder to scrutinise proposed systems. While it is unclear whether the new bill would mean that police departments no longer have to conduct an impact assessment at all, departments would no longer be required to consult with individuals who would be impacted by the processing.

Call to Action

What we are witnessing right now is a nexus of data discrimination snowballing with the constant introduction of more and more surveillance technologies – the fingerprint scanners and facial recognition apps; the 24/7 GPS tagging of migrants; “predictive” systems in the policing and criminal justice system; police use of live facial recognition at public events and calls for it to be embedded in body-worn cameras. This nexus will be emboldened if Bills such as the DPDI pass unchallenged and directly undermine data rights and the legal ability to seek data justice. 

So, how can we stop this happening?

Whether you’re an organisation or individual, The Open Rights Group has several options on how you can help challenge the DPDI bill here. In particular, check out their “Take action with our campaign pack” – a toolkit for stopping the data discrimination bill.

At Stop the Scan we have consistently demanded that the scanners be removed – with the installation of a firewall between the Home Office and services like the police and the NHS. We have also made a number of other demands and recommendations, such as the removal of the immigration control exemption in the Data Protection Act 2018.

Please read our reports to find out more and share them with your networks.

If you are interested in taking action with the Stop the Scan campaign, please email – We are always looking for new people to get involved, whether in small or big ways, so get in touch if you want to be involved in any upcoming actions! You can also email Stop the Scan to request physical copies of our reports and flyers to distribute in your communities.

Please also take the time to check out our website, which includes a “Know Your Rights” section designed to empower people to know their rights when they have been stopped and scanned.

Thank you to the Northern Police Monitoring Project for the help with this.

Written by Carys Coleman for Stop the Scan campaign project

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