A data watchdog has criticised the Department for Education (DfE) for secretly passing children’s personal data to the Home Office for immigration enforcement.
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) made the criticism in response to a complaint by Against Borders for Children (ABC), who were represented by the human rights organisation Liberty.
The complaint argued that children’s data was collected by schools and then shared with immigration enforcement without the knowledge of parents or teachers.
The ICO concluded that the DfE failed to comply with data protection laws and is now considering whether to take further action for the ‘wide ranging and serious concerns’ raised in the complaint.
‘The ICO decision has shown that the DfE cannot be trusted with children's personal data,’ said ABC co-ordinator Kojo Kyerewaa.
‘Without public debate or clear notification, schools have been covertly incorporated as part of Home Office immigration enforcement.
‘These checks have put vulnerable children in further danger as parents are taken away via immigration detention and forced removals.
‘The DfE should be ensuring every child access to education – not implementing policy to deter access to some of society's most vulnerable children.’
Lara ten Caten, a Liberty lawyer, commented: ‘It’s shameful that children’s data is being used to aide attempts to deport their parents. The Department for Education has made schools unknowingly and unwittingly complicit in the Government’s hostile environment.’
Responding to a parliamentary question in April, the minister for school standards Nick Gibb said that the DfE only shares information about pupils with the Home Office where there is ‘evidence of illegal activity’.
‘The Home Office can only request information from the Department for Education for immigration enforcement purposes in circumstances where they have clear evidence a child may be at risk or there is evidence of illegal activity, including illegal immigration,’ he said.
‘In such cases limited data including a pupil’s address and school details may be requested from the National Pupil Database. It is right that this data is shared if it helps to keep a child safe from harm or to disrupt a crime.’