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The privacy of UK citizens could be under threat following the publication of a report which outlines plans for Government departments to share personal information without people's consent.

Details were published yesterday by the Performance and Innovation Unit (PIU) in its report Privacy and Data-Sharing: The Way Forward for Public and backed by Prime Minister Tony Blair.

The report claims people would benefit from more "customer-focused public services" through the "better use of personal information".

For instance, a link between the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency and the UK Passport Service would mean that drivers would not have to send their passport to the DVLA when they apply for a new licence.

Sharing information could also help prevent fraud and better target services aimed children and families on low incomes, for example.

But while there are some instances where the sharing of information may appear to be commonsense, there are fears that data sharing between Government departments without the consent of individuals could also endanger personal privacy.

And that is even before issues such as security and information integrity are taken into account.

The report tries to calms fears by saying that when data is "used or shared without the consent of the individual (for example, in law enforcement), there is openness, transparency and consultation in the policy-making process of striking a balance between individual rights and the wider public interest".

Snag is - is this enough? Those behind the report admit that unless data sharing is carried out properly it could severely undermine people's confidence in the Government.

It warns that ignoring people's concerns "could carry the risk of seriously undermining society’s trust in public services and lead to significant and long-lasting harm to the effective delivery of services, including implementation of integrated e-government services".

It quotes the 1991 Census when one million people failed to take part amid fears that personal information would be used to collar them for the highly unpopular Poll Tax.

Launching the report on behalf of the Government yesterday Lord Falconer admitted: "Government needs to earn people's trust when to comes to collecting and using personal information about them.

"But we can then repay that trust with services that are much more closely tailored to individual needs," he said.

However, the Government's proposals have already come under fire from people concerned that it would hand too much power to bureaucrats.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) - a centre left think tank - claims the Government has not gone far enough to protect people's privacy.

Said Ian Kearns of the IPPR: "The policy recommendations will be far more effective at improving data-sharing than they ever will be at building trust."

The IPPR said that if data sharing on this scale were to be adopted then it would have to strengthen the Data Protection Act. ®

Related Link

Privacy and data-sharing: The way forward for public services - PIU

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