Friday 10 December 2010

MP told Data Protection Act means only limited information on journalist fighting deportation

The UK Border Agency has told an MP it can provide only "limited" information about the case of journalist Charles Atangana, who the NUJ believes could face torture and possible death if he is deported to Cameroon, because of the Data Protection Act and the need to protect his privacy.

Islington South MP Emily Thornberry wrote to the Agency on behalf of constituents who had urged her to take up the case of the journalist who fears retaliation if returned to Cameroon because of his record of investigating corruption.

Jonathan Sedgwick, UK Border Agency deputy chief executive, has replied: "I hope you will understand that in order to safeguard an individual's personal information and comply with the Data Protection Act 1998, the UK Border Agency is limited in the information we can provide when the request is made by someone, such as your constituents, who is not the subject of the application.

"Except in a few exceptional circumstances, we must ensure we have the written authority of the individual concerned before the information is divulged to anyone else. The UK Border Agency has no record that Mr. Atangana has provided us with written confirmation that they wish you or your constituents to act on their behalf. However, if you can provide us with this authority we will respond to your correspondence in more detail."

The letter adds: "this reply is not simply a question of secrecy for its own sake, but is a proportionate response to protecting the privacy of the individual."

Thornberry says she does not think that the Agency's claim that every effort is being made to handle Atangana's case as efficiently as possible "reflects the gravity of the situation".

She has written to Home Secretary Teresa May pointing out the reluctance of the Border Agency to discuss the case and says she would "appreciate a personal response, given the potential threat to Mr. Atangana's safety."

Her letter quotes NUJ president Pete Murray stating: "If he (Mr Atangana) is sent back to Cameroon he will almost certainly be detained, tortured and could face death, This is all for simply doing his job as a journalist."

Pic: Guy Smallman

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