ICO critical of government data sharing plans

The government's controversial plans to share personal data between departments and with the private sector are "too wide" and the safeguards "weak", according...

The government's controversial plans to share personal data between departments and with the private sector are "too wide" and the safeguards "weak", according to the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO), reports Out-law.com.

The ICO has released its second opinion on the contents of the Coroners and Justice Bill, which proposes legalising greater sharing of information between government departments and with outside contractors and private companies that request it.

When the bill's proposals were first published, the ICO was less critical.

"Some have suggested that the bill's information sharing provisions represent an unwarranted interference with the privacy of personal information. We do not agree. The provisions of the DPA will continue to apply to the sharing of personal information whether undertaken within the scope of an information order or otherwise," said its opinion, published on 22 January.

The ICO now believes that the proposed new law poses some dangers to privacy and the government's accountability for the processing of personal data it has collected.

"The bill's information-sharing provisions are too wide, and its safeguards relatively weak. The provisions should only apply in precisely defined circumstances where there is a legal barrier to information sharing that would be in the public interest," it said.

Rosemary Jay, a privacy law expert at Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-law.com, which publicises the latest ICO position, warned of similar concerns when the bill was published.

"It would allow for information to be shared with banks or other financial institutions," she said in January.

"There is no restriction on purpose of the sharing, so for example, it would enable the minister to make an order empowering the tax authorities to disclose the earnings of individuals to credit reference agencies."

Jay said that such disclosures could be made without the person whose information is being shared ever knowing about it.

The ICO is also concerned that the law will allow government to make major changes in the field of information law without consulting parliament.

"The bill needs an additional safeguard to prevent the use of information-sharing orders in the context of large-scale data sharing initiatives that would constitute significant changes to public policy," said the ICO opinion.

This article first appeared on Out-law.com, part of international law firm Pinsent Masons. It has been reproduced with permission.



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