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London charities collected data to help the homeless – Tories secretly accessed it to deport them

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Reports have revealed that the Home Office secretly accessed data utilised by charities to help the homeless and used it track down and deport rough sleepers. 

The Home Office gained access to a map created by the Greater London Authority (GLA) showing the whereabouts and nationality and rough sleepers, and used this as a tool for deporting vulnerable EU nationals.

The system which holds the data, CHAIN (The Combined Homelessness and Information Network), is funded by the GLA and managed by the charity St Mungo’s. Its purpose is to ensure that rough sleepers ‘receive the most appropriate support’, to enable ‘commissioning bodies to monitor the effectiveness of their services’, and to help policy makers ‘identify emerging needs’.

Many charities and agencies make use of this data along with St Mungo’s – hence outreach workers collecting this data believed they were helping homeless people. Yet, for a period of six months from September 2016, they were unknowingly contributing to the deportation of many of the rough sleepers they met.

Indeed, in the final quarter of 2016 there was a 41% increase in the number of EU nationals detained, compared to the previous quarter when the Home Office did not have access to the map. 

The GLA were clearly reluctant to hand the information to the Home Office, only allowing them access to the data after repeated requests for it.

The lengths to which this government will go to obtain private, sensitive details about ordinary people is frankly astonishing. Apparently the Digital Economy Act, allowing the government more access to public data, was not enough and they have to resort to exploiting charity data.

Once homelessness organisations realised what the Home Office was up to, they voiced their concerns and their access to the map was withdrawn. The fact that the GLA allowed them access in the first place though is an indication of government bodies doing secretive deals in order to carry out morally dubious policies without being questioned.

As Martha Spurrier, director of Liberty, said, this government has become ‘obsessed with deportation’ and is clearly prepared to use any means necessary to get burdensome homeless people out of the country.

This is not the first example of the secretive tendencies of the May government. After all, she refuses to publish the report exposing alleged Saudi Arabian funding of Islamist extremism in the UK, despite having the findings in her possession for months. According to the Home Office, the report may never be published as the contents are ‘very sensitive’. 

So according to the Home Office, details about the sources of terror attacks that lead to the deaths of British citizens, details that could be crucial in defeating Islamist terror, are too sensitive to be known by anyone other than themselves and Ms May. Yet at the same time, personal information about vulnerable rough sleepers is apparently nonsensitive enough for them to use without informing the charities it is intended for. 

Unlike the charities’ outreach workers though, the Home Office do not know these homeless people. To them they are just a set of statistics on a screen. In short, they just don’t care. 

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