The government has been accused of ‘bullying’ asylum seekers and unlawfully confiscating thousands of phones in a secret ‘blanket policy’. The Home Office first denied but later confirmed that they had been operating a policy to seize the phones of those arriving into the United Kingdom to download mobile phone data.
According to a report in the Guardian, barrister Tom de La Mare QC, representing one of the asylum seekers, told the court that following the confiscation of the mobile phones, the asylum seekers were ‘bullied into handing over their pin numbers so that officials could unlock personal information including emails, photos, and videos and download them to an intelligence database called Project Sunshine’. Privacy International, an organisation whose expertise covers data and privacy issues, is currently working on the case. Counsel for the asylum seekers put to the court that many waited ‘several months before receiving their phones back’, which resulted in some losing contact with their family and children due to being without both a phone and the numbers stored in it
It was reported that the secret policy operated between April and November 2020. The case has been taken to the High Court for judicial review. The Home Office, due to this secret policy, has been accused of ‘serious illegality’ and thegovernment is facing charges of illegally extracting data from ‘those most vulnerable in society’.