'Vast risks' posed by data sharing proposal

Privacy campaigners fear people’s personal information could be shared between public and private sector outfits without their consent if it meets state objectives.

Issuing the alert, Privacy International said a new bill will give ministers the power, via secondary legislation, to effectively cancel protections in the Data Protection Act.

It said proposals in the Coroner’s and Justice Bill would let ministers permit any person, department or company, to disclose someone’s personal or company details.

Data held by Revenue & Customs, the police, the NHS and schools could therefore end up in private sector hands if it “serves the government’s policy objectives.”

Similarly, the group added, data held in the private sector, such as by internet service providers and at hotels, could be handed to government, its agencies and the police.

Privacy International said that if enacted without amendment, the proposals would “create a substantially increased risk of security breaches of personal information.”

“Previously people’s consent was required, but now the consent of the governed is no longer being sought,” its report stated.

“In fact, the government’s proposal eradicates consent from the governing framework, thus placing not only our data at risk but also fundamental tenets of our democracy.”

As a result of what it said was giving ministers “order-making powers related to data sharing,” it said the state could implement “automatic population” of the ID cards database.

It also claimed the bill could permit the “bulk transfer of personal financial data to HMRC and other agencies” and the “bulk transfer of NHS medical files to the insurance industry.”

Yet, the “mass exchange of personal information has the potential to deliver some benefit,” PI said, despite the “vast risks” associated with “privacy security and human autonomy.”

The group said the government’s rush, in its own words, to “overcome current barriers to information sharing within the public sector” has ignored these areas.

Moreover, PI argued the data sharing proposals were not publicly consulted upon and no impact assessment of the measures has been carried out.

The bill’s “meaningless protections,” were also attacked, as the Information Commissioner can only provide comments to parliament after a data sharing order has been given, and that parliament is not permitted to amend the order.

Ministers reportedly maintain the bill is intended to “modernise” the way that information is collected in state departments to meet their “joined up government” agenda.


29th January 2009

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