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A House of Lords committee has described the Digital Economy Bill’s data-sharing agreements as “inappropriate” and wants changes to be made.
The government’s stated aim for the bill is to make the UK “a place where technology ceaselessly transforms the economy, society and government”, and one of its key commitments focuses on the sharing of publicly held datasets “to improve service delivery while maintaining safeguards on privacy”.
But the House of Lords committee said it was “inappropriate” that one of the bill’s clauses on data-sharing gave ministers “almost untrammeled powers” allowing them to “prescribe extensive lists of public authorities as ‘specified persons’, either by name or description”.
The committee added: “We are also deeply concerned about the power to prescribe as a ‘specified person’ a person ‘providing services to a public authority’. This is not explained or justified in the memorandum.
“The draft regulations published by the government indicate that they intend to prescribe a person providing services to any of a long list of public authorities. This means that any person with whom one of those authorities chooses to contract for the provision of services connected with the ‘specified objective’ would then become entitled to disclose and receive information under this gateway for the purpose of that objective.”
The committee recommended that the clause be completely removed from the bill.
The House of Lords is not the only critic of the Digital Economy Bill, which has been criticised for failing to provide enough detail and scrutiny around its data-sharing commitments.
Last November, a group of 26 businesses, professional bodies, academics and privacy groups, wrote to the government asking it to expand the details about data-sharing provisions in the legislation.
They argued that the government must strengthen, not weaken, the protection of sensitive information.
“The government should be an exemplar in ensuring the security and protection of citizens’ personal data,” they wrote. “If the necessary technical and legal safeguards cannot be embedded in the current bill and codes of practice, we respectfully urge the government to remove its personal data-sharing proposals in their entirety.”