MPs urge Government caution over handling of citizens' data

News by Richard Thurston

In a report, the Home Affairs Committee says it's imperative that the Government builds trust with citizens, else there is a real danger the country will slide into a surveillance society

A group of MPs have urged caution over the way the Government collects citizens' personal information.

The Home Affairs Committee, led by veteran politician Keith Vaz, said in a report released on Sunday that it is imperative the Government gains the trust of citizens over the storage and use of their personal data. If they did not, there was a real danger the UK would descend into a surveillance society, they said.

"The Government should adopt a principle of data minimisation: it should only collect what is essential, to be stored only for as long as is necessary," read the report, which bore the title: "A Surveillance Society?"

The committee laid out a series of what it terms "ground rules" that it urged the government and its agencies to follow in order to build trust with citizens. "Unless trust in the Government's intentions in relation to data collection, retention and sharing is carefully preserved, there is a danger that our society could become a surveillance society," the report said.

The MPs also urged restraint on the data the Government is collecting for its ID card scheme, which is due for rollout starting in 2011 or 2012.

"The Government should make full use of technical means of protecting personal information and preventing unwarranted monitoring of individuals' activities. But safeguards are as much a matter of policy and protocol as technology: the Government should also carry out rigorous risk analysis of any proposal to establish major new databases or other systems for collecting data," the report said.

The Government is due to consider a draft bill later this year which is likely to result in the storage of all citizens' phone and internet records in one central database.

"We examined aspects of the Home Office's responsibilities in relation to the collection and sharing of personal information - including CCTV or video surveillance, identity cards and the National DNA Database. We recommend that the Home Office exercise restraint in collecting personal information," the report said.

The Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, welcomed the report.

He said: "I welcome the Home Affairs Committee's call for the Government to adopt the principle of data minimisation and curb unnecessary surveillance. It is essential that positive action is taken to ensure the potential risks of a surveillance society never manifest themselves in this country."

The Government said it would respond in due course.

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