Data sharing plan 'piggy-backed on ID bill'

Experts voice concerns that the government's ID card scheme goes beyond its brief and could raise data protection issues and...

Experts voice concerns that the government's ID card scheme goes beyond its brief and could raise data protection issues and create extra costs for NHS.

The government is using its ID card programme to "piggy back" plans for a major expansion of data sharing across the public sector without an open debate, a leading data protection expert told MPs last week.

Ministers have used the draft ID card bill to widen the purpose of the scheme from establishing the identity of citizens to providing a mechanism for linking government databases and increasing police surveillance powers, the Home Affairs Select Committee heard.

Chris Pounder, a data protection expert with law firm Masons, told MPs on the committee that the government had failed to properly inform the public about its plans, which only fully emerged in a draft bill published in April.

"The sense I get is that the government is piggy backing a complete data sharing agenda that has not been subject to public scrutiny. The data sharing agenda has been largely missing from the two previous consultations and has only come to light in the bill."

At issue are proposals, disclosed in the draft bill, to create a central register containing personal details of every citizen of the UK. The register, which forms the main plank of the bill, goes beyond what is necessary to verify identity, said Pounder.

"It is clear that the personal data used to support the ID card is relevant to far wider objectives," he said in a written submission. "These include the ability to share or create linkages between personal data across a range of government departments or to rationalise government databases."

The government has "misled" the public by focusing on ID cards during its consultations, when the main focus of the draft legislation is not the cards but the central register, said Pounder.

The efficient sharing of data is at the heart of Tony Blair's e-government strategy. Ministers said it would allow more effective delivery of services, cut fraud and enhance security. However, privacy campaigners said it raised civil liberties issues.

The ID card bill would potentially allow police and security services to access records of the public and private sector services used by individuals throughout their life - information that could be used to build up a detailed profile, said Pounder.

Earlier government assurances that the central register would not record details of services used by individuals, and that police access would be governed by judicial warrant, have been dropped.

Pound told MPs that the data protection provisions in the bill, which reverse the normal data protection principles by placing the onus on citizens to ensure that their data is kept accurate and up-to-date, were inadequate.

He urged the government to give Parliament the right to scrutinise the statutory instruments used by ministers to implement or expand the scheme.

Read more on IT risk management