National register to put citizens back in control

A key government IT project delayed by data protection concerns will give citizens greater control over personal information held...

A key government IT project delayed by data protection concerns will give citizens greater control over personal information held on them, the government agency responsible for the project has insisted.

Plans to create the UK's first searchable national electoral register system, which would underpin online voting, were thrown into disarray by a High Court ruling in November 2001. It ruled that the sale of electoral register information for commercial use breached data protection and human rights laws.

Councils have suspended sales of their electoral register and the national register may not be in place until early 2003.

Currently commercial organisations such as credit card providers can buy unrestricted access to electoral registers maintained by local authorities.

But when the national electoral register comes into force citizens will be able to stop their details being used for commercial purposes, such as junk mail.

Regulations being drafted by the Department of Transport, Local Government and the Regions are expected to require a full and an edited version of the register's records.

The full version of the register will not be used for commercial purposes, unless specifically authorised by the department.

If citizens want to be listed on the slimmed down register they will have to tick a box giving permission for their details to be used for commercial purposes.

"The new register system will improve the citizen's control over their personal information in the long run," said Nicola Wood, manager of the the People Information Programme at the Local Government Information House, a subsidiary of the agency which is responsible for the register project.

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