U.K. government grants itself even more data sharing power

Published 8 December 2008

A U.K. government proposal debated in Parliament this week would increase the ability of different government arms to share data

It is not for nothing that the United Kingdom has been dubbed the Surveillance Society, and debates about privacy and government over-reach occupy the political discourse. The latest cause for debate is the U.K. government’s proposals to increase data sharing between departments — a proposal conveniently (the critics say) buried in the Coroners and Justice Bill The proposal is expected to be presented to the House of Commons this week. The Register’s John Oates writes that the bill is expected to include measures covering the government’s response to the Data Handling Review. In essence these will allow more data sharing between different arms of government.

Recommendation 8 (a and b) was accepted by the government — it gives the secretary of state the right to remove “an existing legal barrier to data sharing”. The government response generally agreed that departments should admit who else they are sharing information with, but there were three provisos — national security, confidentiality agreements, and market sensitivity. The last two have been routinely used to suppress information about government IT contracts.

Privacy lobby group No2ID expects the Bill to be pushed through its first reading on Friday.

Phil Booth, national coordinator of the privacy advocacy group NO2ID, said that “Rather than protecting our personal information, as it should be, the government is cutting away safeguards for its own data-trafficking convenience. This is a Bill to smash the rule of law and build the database state in its place.”

A Ministry of Justice Spokesperson said:

Sharing data is essential for the delivery of efficient and effective joined-up public services, tackling crime and protecting the public. The new power will lead to a more streamlined process for policies requiring data sharing whilst at the same time allowing fuller parliamentary scrutiny. Any draft Order would require Parliamentary approval and a Privacy Impact Assessment.