Govt departmental data sharing back on the cards

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude is expected to announce plans to increase the ability of government departments to share private citizen data, the Guardian has reported.

The plans will "make it far easier for government and public-sector organisations to share confidential information supplied by the public," the newspaper claims, and are "expected to include fast-track procedures for ministers to license the sharing of data in areas where it is currently prohibited, subject to privacy safeguards".

The proposed changes to legislation are yet another example of the current government attempting to introduce data management capabilities that were attempted by the its predecessor but eventually ditched (other examples being the ID Assurance scheme and the Communications Capabilities Development Programme).

In 2007, then-Prime Minister Tony Blair proposed amendments to the Data Protection Act that would allow greater information sharing between government departments. He made reference to private organisations that have made business processes more efficient by integrating customer data.

His proposals were met by opposition from privacy and civil liberties campaigners. "“From those in power, I see nothing but contempt for that little bit of personal space and security that is so essential to our dignity, that makes us all human," wrote Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, at the time.

Shortly after Blair made the proposals, however, HM Revenue and Customs lost the personal records 25 million citizens on two discs that were being sent to the National Audit Office.

Blair commissioned a review of data sharing in the public sector, conducted by then-Information Commissioner Richard Thomas and director of the Wellcome Trust, Mark Walport.

The review prompted the Information Commissioner’s Office to produce a Data Sharing Code of Practice. It explains that personal data can only be shared between organisations if it is used for "the prevention or detection of crime; the apprehension or prosecution of offenders; the assessment or collection of tax or duty".

"An organisation processing personal data for one of these purposes is exempt from the fairness requirements of the [Data Protection Act], but only to the extent that applying these provisions would be likely to prejudice the crime and taxation purposes."

The ICO said today that is "aware that the Cabinet Office is developing proposals to enable greater data sharing across government and the public sector. We look forward to commenting on these proposals when they are published.
“In the meantime we continue to advise bodies involved in data sharing on how they can comply with the Data Protection Act," it added. "This includes explaining the privacy safeguards that must be in place."

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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