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Bureaucratic creep fears over life records plan

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The Government plans to establish a database of life records which could be used to create a dossier on everyone in the country, privacy advocates fear.

The Foundation for Information Policy Research (FIPR) has called on the Government to ensure that a new electronic database of life events - births, marriages, deaths etc. - supports, rather than reduces, privacy and liberty.

In a response to the Office of National Statistics' consultation on its plans for such a database, the FIPR said the "proposal amounts to establishing the foundations for a compulsory dossier on every citizen".

"Once begun, the database would develop its own momentum as agencies discovered new advantages. Fraud and crime prevention could be argued to justify the inclusion of information relating to social security benefits, tax, passports, drivers' licences, criminal records and much else," the FIPR writes.

"Public health considerations might be argued to justify extension of the snapshot of information about the cause of death to an accumulation of information about health events during life. The protection of children might be argued to justify linkage with information accumulated by social services departments. The needs of the war on terrorism seem capable of being used to justify almost anything," it adds.

According to the FIPR, the proposed database is already intended to store information that goes beyond its stated purpose.

"It is difficult to see the justification for including occupations, ranks and professions of brides, grooms and their parents, or causes of death, within the registration system."

The FIPR argues that simpler measures could be cheaper, less invasive and more effective. For example, a basic registry of deaths would allow the Passport Agency to check applications for fraud.

The think tank also believes paper records are more trustworthy because they are "harder to retrospectively alter" than database files.

Nicholas Bohm, General Counsel to the FIPR and author of the response, said: "The Government must avoid the risks of turning the register of births into a set of comprehensive dossiers on every citizen."

"We should not be moving towards a system where our very identity is dependent on registration by the Government in a central database." ®

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