The Guardian today reports on a legal challenge brought by two individuals concerned at the potential breach of their right to privacy under arrangements that allows data from the 2011 Census to be passed on to third parties. The data processing of the Census 2011 is being undertaken by Lockheed Martin, a US based defence contractor, which lawyers for the two plaintiffs argue places the company under the competency of the US Patriot Act leaving open the possibility that private information could be requested by US officials, thus breaching their right to privacy as guaranteed by the European Court of Human Rights.
From the Guardian:
“A high court judge will be told on Thursday that the 2011 census was unlawful because a provision in the act that governs it allows data to be passed to third parties.
“In a judicial review, lawyers representing a British Muslim and an Afghan refugee will argue that the Office for National Statistics' decision to grant a data processing contract to a UK subsidiary of the US defence contractor Lockheed Martin breaches the two men's right to privacy as guaranteed by the European convention on human rights.
“Although the 2007 Statistics and Registration Service Act protects the privacy of information gathered for the census, an exemption was added that allows information to be handed over if the requesting state requires it for a criminal investigation.
“Under the US's Patriot Act, the American government can compel any US company to hand over information it holds for the purposes of a criminal investigation. Lawyers for the two men argue that Lockheed Martin's UK subsidiary would be subject to that demand.
The lawyer representing the two men stated, "We believe that the subsidiary and its parent company, which are not public bodies, are outside the reach of the Human Rights Act and the Data Protection Act."
One of the men bringing the case is described as “frequently travel[ing] between the UK and Pakistan [and] concerned that his movements between the two countries might be treated as suspicious by the US authorities and that his information could find its way to US intelligence.”
The other, an Afghan refugee, who did not complete the census is “concerned that an informed person would know from his census data that he was a refugee. A further concern is that once that information was in the hands of US authorities, which are not bound by the European human rights convention, there would be no barrier to it being passed to Afghan authorities.”
Bilateral agreements between the UK and UK, like the Extradition Treaty 2003, have raised important questions and concerns on whether the rights of British citizens have been adequately protected by UK authorities in the new security environment post 9/11 and amid the introduction of a raft of legislative changes a propos the ‘war on terror’.
The freedom of movement of British Muslims has been a particularly sore point with innumerable cases of Muslims alleging harassment and intimidation on their passage through airports, with claims that police officers have posed intrusive questions on, for example, attitudes towards extremism and terrorism.
In 2010, in was revealed that the number of people stopped and questioned at airports had doubled between in the years 2006-2010, with many ethnic minorities raising concerns about racial profiling. In 2011, the issue of harassment of Muslims at Glasgow’s main airport resulted in an organised boycott by the city’s Muslim community. Moreover, a report published by Durham University in 2011 found significant concern in the Muslim community about the use of powers under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act which allows police at airports to stop and search without suspicion, and whereby any one person can be questioned for up to nine hours.
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