Thursday, December 04, 2008

UK government plan to open the floodgates on data sharing

From today's Independent:

"Personal information detailing intimate aspects of the lives of every British citizen is to be handed over to government agencies under sweeping new powers. The measure, which will give ministers the right to allow all public bodies to exchange sensitive data with each other, is expected to be rushed through Parliament in a Bill to be published tomorrow.

The new legislation would deny MPs a full vote on such data-sharing. Instead, ministers could authorise the swapping of information between councils, the police, NHS trusts, the Inland Revenue, education authorities, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Authority, the Department for Work and Pensions and other ministries...

Thomas Hammarberg, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said he believed Britain had gone too far in helping to bring about a "surveillance society". In a report drawing on personal data infringements across Europe but "inspired" by Britain's plan for a new internet, email and telephone database, he added: "General surveillance raises serious democratic problems which are not answered by the repeated assertion that those who have nothing to hide have nothing to fear. This puts the onus in the wrong place: it should be for states to justify the interferences they seek to make on privacy rights.""

The government are rolling out the same old tired and empty excuses - efficient data sharing is needed for delivering public services etc. What they fundamentally refuse to get is that sharing everyone's data with every department in the vague hope that the public servants swamped with these mountains of electronic data noise will be able to do something useful with it, actually gets in the way of the delivery of efficient services. Delivering appropriate and timely information, in accessible form, to the right people in a way that enables them to do their job is not the same as saying - "here's a computer, they're very clever you know, and here is all the data we've ever gathered, now go do something useful; and if you can't do something useful then at least tell people that we're doing a good job because we've spent a lot of money of those computers you know."

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