UK government proposes public sector data sharing

A leaked document reveals that the British government plans to revise data collection laws so that it can share personal details on earnings, tax and criminal records, benefits payments and more with all agencies in the public sector.

UK government proposes public sector data sharing
UK government proposes public sector data sharing

The Telegraph broke the news and disclosed that these data sharing changes are laid out in a four-month old discussion document, which was drawn up by the Cabinet Office Data Sharing Policy Team and signed off on by minister Francis Maude.

The plan is for government to side-step the Data Protection Act – which makes sharing within the public sector difficult – by collecting and sharing voters' driving licences, criminal records, energy usage and other personal details between the various state databases maintained by local authorities, schools, police forces and other agencies in the public sector.

The changes will be contained in a White Paper to be published in the Autumn and could feature as part of draft legislation after the 2015 General Election, according to the newspaper's sources.

It is claimed that the UK government is looking to make these changes in a bid to mimic private companies like Google and use big data analytics to identify certain members of society. According to the leaked document, the government will, in particular, look to identify troubled families, elderly people in need of support, and to cut fraud  - while there is also interest in becoming more “intelligent” and “nimble” in how it collects data.

The document reportedly notes: "People tend to assume that government can share data between departments to complete simple tasks, and are surprised to learn that it cannot.

"Removing barriers to sharing or linking datasets can help government to design and implement evidence-based policy - for example to tackle social mobility, assist economic growth and prevent crime."

Online privacy is likely to come into question as a result of the document, especially as consent is not currently required, although the document details how the committee has already consulted privacy groups such as Liberty and Big Brother Watch.

Ministers are apparently “acutely sensitive” to public concern about privacy, so says the document, although most are split on whether the public should be consulted – a reaction perhaps to the backlash against the NHS' postponed care.data scheme.

The proposals apparently stipulate that user data will be anonymised, although this could be questioned, especially as the document claims that energy efficiency could be improved “by matching people's gas and electricity use with information about their property held by the Land Registry.”

Data may also be sold to any organisations providing public services, including third-parties providing outsourcing services.

Forrester analyst Andrew Rose said that most people will, however, already expect the government to hold these powers.

“I believe that the strongest outcry is likely to come from the press headlines and the public reaction is likely to be a lot more restrained, mainly because I think most people expected the government to have this sort of power anyway,” Rose told SCMagazineUK.com.

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