ICO again criticises government data sharing

The Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) yesterday criticised the latest government plans to extend the use of personal data as "too wide," with safeguards that were "weak".

The ICO made the comments in the critical second opinion, issued in response to the clauses allowing data sharing across government departments and with the private sector in the government's proposed Coroners and Justice Bill.

The bill was given its second reading in Parliament at the end of January. And, at the time, a clause hidden in its proposals to amend the Data Protection Act raised civil liberty concerns.

The clause would enable ministers to issue information sharing orders,' to use information obtained under the DPA for one purpose, along with its conditions of confidentiality, to be used in the fight against terrorism and crime.

The anti-ID card campaign NO2ID wrote in January: "This single clause is as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme. Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body."

The ICO responded in January: "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," it stated.

Now the ICO's second opinion has strengthened its original stance on the bill's data sharing plans.

"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," stated the second opinion.

It said 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," it added.

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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.