Tuesday, January 27, 2009

PI Black Zone Report on Data Sharing - Sharing the Misery

Privacy International have just published an important report, SHARING THE MISERY
The UK’s strategy to circumvent data privacy protections
, on the UK government's plans to engage in mass data sharing.
"Of the hundreds of issues engaged each year by Privacy International, a small handful stand out because of the fundamental risk they pose to the foundations of privacy protection.

In January 2007, Privacy International decided to initiate the “Black Zone” report series. These reports will deal with issues that we regard as constituting an exceptional danger to privacy.

The UK government’s proposal to legislate, in its 'Coroners and Justice Bill', for wide scale sharing of personal data is one such instance, and internationally is the first occasion in recent months that we have seen an example of risk at such a fundamental level. The scale of the danger to privacy should be seen in the light of other current UK proposals, such as mass communications data surveillance and nationwide vehicle surveillance. These latter projects constitute a major threat, but do not encompass the breadth or potential corrosive effect on existing protections.

The mass exchange of personal information has the potential to deliver some benefit, however it also presents vast risks associated with governance, privacy, security and human autonomy. In the rush to institute data sharing, these aspects have largely been ignored.

Privacy International took the decision to prepare this report on the basis both of the dangers inherent in the legislative proposals and the unprecedented way in which they have been created.

The aim of this report is to bring to the attention of the public, parliament and media the urgent need to consider the extraordinary dangers created by the proposal. Previously people’s consent was required, but now the consent of the governed is not longer being sought. In fact, the Government’s proposal eradicates consent from the governing framework, thus placing not only our data at risk but also fundamental tenets of our democracy.


This policy has been the overarching vision of the UK Government since the late 1990s. We are surprised it has taken so long to devise a policy of this breadth and with such disregard for even the most basic safeguards. Despite continuous debates about genetic databases, health databases, and biometric databases, everything has been done to ignore debate on this policy. This can serve only to destabilise any decision made by Parliament on these other matters.

The problems with this law is as follows:

  1. Based on an illegitimate consultation process over a ten-year period, created to justify whatever the Government drafted into law. Even the Information Commissioner’s Office has been compromised.
  2. Avoids Parliamentary scrutiny by pushing orders through secondary legislation.
  3. Consists of meaningless protections and oversight, where the ICO may provide comments to Parliament in a process where Parliament is not permitted to amend the order.

The report is available in full in PDF here."

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