Data-sharing plans raise fresh privacy concerns

Privacy campaigners are angry over plans to resurrect data sharing plans that would make it easier for Government departments to share personal data.

Data-sharing plans raise fresh privacy concerns

The plans were first brought up in a speech by Cabinet Minister Francis Maude to the Information Commissioner’s Office back in March, but according to a report in The Guardian, the plans are moving forward, with details expected to be announced in May.

The plans hark back to data sharing proposals put forward during Tony Blair’s Government that were shelved in 2010. Eager to cut costs, the Cabinet Office is putting them back on the agenda.

“In May, we will publish proposals that will make data sharing easier – and, in particular, we will revisit the recommendations of the Walport-Thomas Review that would make it easier for legitimate requests for data sharing to be agreed with a view to considering their implementation,” said Maude, adding that current barriers between databases made it difficult for public sector workers to access relevant information.

There’s no point in being wary about how Facebook uses and shares data and not the Government

“It’s clearly wrong to have social workers, doctors, dentists, Job Centres, the police all working in isolation on the same problems.”

However, data protection campaigners said the plans were flawed and would have little real value.

“There’s no intrinsic value in sharing data, the driving force is more convenience for officialdom,” Guy Herbert, general secretary of No2ID, told PC Pro. “This is about tearing down the barriers between departments and other areas and really doesn’t fall into a mindset that matches people’s reasonable expectation of privacy.”

According to Herbert, the Government should reassess its take on privacy and data protection, inisting on similar protections in public offices as expected in private companies.

“The Government has to look at privacy as a whole and how it deals with data,” he said. ”The public sector is no different to Facebook or any other private company and data protection needs to be taken as a whole – there’s no point in being wary about how Facebook uses and shares data and not the Government.”

No central database

Maude played down fears of a huge central database that would be a target for criminals, suggesting flexible links between databases would mean information was paired only briefly.

“In a world of dispersed data sets, we can bring fragments together instantaneously and momentarily to corroborate – without ever creating a central database,” he said.

“It’s about bringing together the data at a point in time – to provide the necessary confidence – and then disaggregating it again.”

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