The government has set up an independent commission to see whether present public and private sector data-collection and sharing schemes go too far towards invading individual's privacy.
Richard Thomas, the information commissioner, and Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, will head the investigation. They have still to agree their terms of reference. They are expected to report to the justice secretary, Jack Straw, at the end of June 2008.
A spokesman for the Information Commissioner's Office said the aim was to balance the individual's right to privacy against the efficiencies that data-sharing create.
He said the investigation was needed because the public sector has collected "vast amounts" of data about people, and that private sector bodies such as banks and Tesco were doing the same.
He said the ICO had published a framework guideline in October that helped firms decided what data they could share and when. "This investigation will tell us what more we might need to do, and what extra powers the ICO needs," he said.
The ICO will host a conference on "Surveillance Society: Turning Debate into Action" at Manchester's Bridgewater Hall on 11 December 2007. It will launch a handbook on "Privacy Impact Assessments" at the conference.