Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Limiting the risks of government data sharing

There are some smart people in the civil service, like Owen Barder, the Director for Global Development Effectiveness at DfID, the UK Department for International Development, the department charged with fighting global poverty, who makes some succinct points about government data sharing on his blog:

"The UK Government is going to consult more widely on its proposals for data sharing within government.

A national identity register that allows data sharing across government could be the technological underpinning of a huge improvement in the provision of government services. (It is important that the technology will not transform the services: it is a platform on which government processes can change).

Those of us who understand the technology and care about our civil liberties should not adopt a luddite stance of opposition: we should send a clear, consistent and simple message about the safeguards we need so that we get the benefits of joined up services without the risks to our freedoms.

I propose the following five, readily understandable safeguards. The government should commit itself to each of these, or offer an extremely good reason why not:

  • government data should be stored in decentralized databases that can communicate with each other on a need to know basis, not in shared data warehouses;
  • citizens should have access to all data held about them by government
  • citizens should be able to see a complete log of every access to their personal data by all public servants
  • an independent information security ombudsman should police the systems
  • there should be no identity cards and no collection of biometric data"

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