Data breaches have damaged public confidence

The results of the data sharing review, initiated last year after a series of high-profile public and private sector data losses, is looking to transform the way personal information is used.

Dr Mark Walport, director of the Wellcome Trust, and Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner today announced the findings of their independent review into data sharing, after the Prime Minister Gordon Brown asked for the review last October.

The review followed high profile data breaches in both the public and private sectors, where Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) lost an encrypted CD containing personal data on 25 million UK citizens and where the likes of retailer Cotton Traders most recently lost thousands of customers' credit card details.

The data sharing review was also opened to public consultation last December.

As a result, its main finding was that public confidence in organisations' ability to protect personal information had been seriously damaged and measures were needed to restore trust.

Walport drew attention to the lack of clarity in legal data protection requirements. "When it comes to questions about whether and how to share personal data, we recommend that decisions should be made in the context of a clear statutory code of practice," he said. "There needs to be stronger leadership and accountability in organisations that use and share personal information."

The review also included a package of recommendations aimed at transforming the way personal information is collected, managed, used and shared.

Thomas said: "The regulatory system governing data sharing needs to have much more bite and reform is now long overdue. We strongly commend our recommendations and look to the government to lead work on implementing them."

Its recommendations also include enhancing the role of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) in policing data sharing and putting mechanisms in place that will assist work in the field of research and statistical analysis, including greater protections to prevent abuse of information online and, in particular, in the electoral register.

In delivering the review findings, Walport added: "We ask the government, as part of its response, to set out a clear timetable for implementation of our recommendations and to report on progress."

The Ministry of Justice (MOJ) stated in response: "The MOJ is already working on possible amendments to the powers available to the ICO and the funding arrangements for his office to support the exercise of any new powers."

It added that it will assess the other recommendations in the report in further detail and issue a more detailed statement once it had had time to fully consider the implications and costs of introducing its suggested changes.

Miya Knights

A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.

Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.