Home Office extracted data from migrant’s phones

Home Office extracted data from migrant’s phones

According to a report by Sky News, the Home Office is under investigation after the department extracted data from around 850 migrant’s phones in a possible breach of the data protection act.

If found guilty the department could face a fine of up to £17m (18.4 million euros).

The Home Secretary has come under increasing pressure for failing to adequately deal with the small boat crossings that have risen in number over the last year or so. According to a Freedom of Information Act request by Sky, immigration officers extracted data from hundreds of mobile phones seized off migrants who crossed the Channel.

According to witness testimony in an ongoing Judicial Review, the data was captured in a programme called Project Sunshine, which did not ultimately lead to any arrests or further investigations.

The programme is one of 17 incidents the Home Office reported last year to the data protection regulator, alongside the accidental deletion of 234,000 criminal records.

Patel has promised to halve the number of crossings, however the numbers have grown with more than 28,000 making the perilous journey last year. Of those 37 drowned. Forecasts suggest that number will more than double in 2022.

The report states that the policy of extracting data from phones is no longer in force, with migrants detained at Tug Haven in the Port of Dover in 2020, a facility which inspectors described as “fundamentally unsuitable” and has since been closed, were told to hand over their phones and passwords to immigration officers.

Officers then extracted “location data, conversation history, photographs etc” from the devices.

Lucie Audibert, a Legal Officer at Privacy International which has intervened in the Judicial Review, told Sky News: “Officially the Home Office was using its search and seizure powers under the Immigration Act to seize the phones.

“It was extracting data on the basis that it may reveal evidence of criminal activities such as people smuggling, not necessarily perpetrated by the phone owners themselves, but where they could find evidence that someone else had been smuggling people into the UK.”

Migrants had lodged complaints about the procedure with the Judicial Review looking at the legality of the “blanket search and seizures.” In terms of the law migrants are meant to be treated under the immigration regime and not the criminal one, according to Ms Audibert.

She continued telling Sky News that: “The second argument that was really at the core of the case was the proportionality of this policy. So even if there’s a justification terms of operational need, do you need to seize everyone’s phones and do you have a legal basis to do so even if these people themselves aren’t suspected of criminal offences?”

The Judicial Review looking into whether the Home Office extracted data from migrant’s phones illegally, is expected to report if a few weeks’ time in what could be another major embarrassment for the home secretary.

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Written by

Peter McLaren-Kennedy

Originally from South Africa, Peter is based on the Costa Blanca and is a web reporter for the Euro Weekly News covering international and Spanish national news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at editorial@euroweeklynews.com.