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Think tank calls for new data laws

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Government needs a more clearly defined legal framework for data sharing, says the Social Market Foundation (SMF)

The think tank has made the proposal in a report, "Who Shares Wins? Transforming the public services with intelligent information", published today.

It says citizens should be placed at the heart of any government data sharing policy, but that a number of problems remain to be resolved.

One of these is uncertainty over the legal implications of sharing data. The SMF says Parliament should pass a bill to establish the powers of departments to share data when they can identify clear benefits, and that the cases should be assessed by a regulator. When a case is accepted public servants would not need further permission or legislation for relevant data sharing.

Another proposal is that, if possible, people should be given access to the audit trails created when public servants access their data, and that each government department should have a single point of contact to investigate allegations of misuse. Related to this is a proposal for departments and their agencies to appoint the equivalent of Caldicott guardians, who oversee data sharing in the NHS and social services.

The report also says the government needs a clear mechanism for arranging compensation between departments saving money and those incurring new costs through data sharing. This could be achieved through a price structure or via Treasury adjustments to departmental budgets.

The SMF also warns that too much data sharing will create new inefficiencies and may compromise citizens' freedoms. It cites the case of the government's proposed National Identity Register, saying it could have "implications for security and liberty, revealing unnecessary personal information and delivering few benefits to citizens in return".

Alexander Isaac, researcher at the SMF and co-author of the report, said: "To keep pace with private sector efficiency and service quality, government will have to prioritise data sharing.

"Building confidence in this initiative will need a clear commitment to enhancing citizens' information rights and to the use of data sharing to improve people's experiences of government."

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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