Blunkett looks to greater scrutiny of private sector use of data

Businesses could face greater scrutiny over the way they use the personal data of credit card and loyalty card customers, the...

Businesses could face greater scrutiny over the way they use the personal data of credit card and loyalty card customers, the Home Secretary, David Blunkett said yesterday (17 November).

Speaking after delivering a rallying speech in support of the government's biometric ID card programme, Blunkett suggested that the government could appoint a surveillance commissioner with powers to regulate commercial as well as government data.

"People are always arguing that because it is the government collecting data they ought to be suspicious. But the private sector is almost above suspicion. I am a raising the issue that what is good for the goose is good for the gander," he said.

The Home Secretary said that the public needed to wake up to the fact that personal information they supply to retailers and banks is far more detailed that the personal information that will be collected on the ID card database.

"It is time people got real about what is happening to them," he said. "A lot of information about where people shop and who they bank with is valuable business information and is sold on to other companies."

Launching a broadside against concerns over the privacy of personal ID data, Blunkett argued that if the public was happy to disclose a wide range of sensitive data to private companies, it should not be concerned about disclosing data to the government, which is more tightly regulated.

The central register proposed in the ID card scheme will contain details of people's current and former addresses, their fingerprints, facial characteristics, iris scans. The data base will also keep a record of checks against the ID card, providing an audit trail of services people have accessed.

But the data access to the data will be more carefully controlled than more wide ranging data collected by the private sector, Blunkett claimed.

"Store loyalty cards keep continuously updated details such as the size of a persons household, whether they are employed or not and the ages of their children, besides what they like to eat, where and how often they shop and what brand of toothpaste they use," he said.

"If you do hold a loyalty card - and the odds are that you do - you have already consented to all this information being repeatedly shared with other companies without any requirement to ask again for your approval."

But the Home Secretary's suggestions that the private sector should be more heavily regulated were greeted with scepticism by the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas.

The private sector already under legal and commercial pressure to handle personal data sensitively, he said.

"If they don't do with their data what they say, they will be in trouble with my office and the market in general," he said

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