Most British people don't trust government with personal data

The UK ranks high in a list of countries where citizens are least confident about how their private information is handled by public authorities, research shows

Most UK citizens lack confidence in how public authorities handle their personal data, a study has found.

According to the report by Reboot Online, based on recent data from the European Commission, 68% of British people distrust public authorities in terms of their ability to securely oversee their data.

A total number of 27,607 Europeans were surveyed for the research, which considers any body that is controlled, funded and linked to the government as public authority.

The UK ranks third on a list of 19 European countries where citizens least trust their governments in terms of personal data management. The third place is shared by Belgium and France, where the same percentage of citizens reported their lack of trust in personal data handling.

Spain tops the list, with 78% of citizens saying they don’t trust government to handle their personal details, followed by Ireland (73%).

On the other end of the spectrum, Finland occupies the bottom of the list, with 29% of citizens reporting they do not trust public authorities to handle their data. Just above Finland is Estonia, where two in five citizens are not convinced of public authorities’ competence in looking after their personal data.

On average, taking the findings from all countries into account, around 61% of Europeans are not assured by public authorities in terms of how their personal information is dealt with.

“While the level of trust in public authorities with regards to personal data varies between countries, all private and public organisations need to be highly transparent, responsible and ethical when it comes to how they keep and utilise people’s personal data,” said Shai Aharony, co-founder and managing director at Reboot Online.

At the GovTech Summit 2020, panellists spoke about the need build up the public’s trust in digital services, which have been accelerated in the Covid-19 crisis. Experts argue this is crucial for such services to be effective, especially if their use continues or they will be redeployed for future pandemics.

Elizabeth Denham, the UK’s information commissioner, told attendees of event that maintaining public trust in data-intensive systems such as the Covid-19 test and trace system was essential to ensuring they actually get used by citizens.

“If we lose public trust in this pandemic, or any other situation, we know that there will be a hit on the public’s uptake and participation in these important services and provisions – and privacy is a big part of that,” Denham said at the time.

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