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Government needs to make privacy and data protection principles a core component of its IT specifications, according to the assistant information commissioner.

Speaking at a Kable conference on identity management infrastructures, held on 9 July 2007, Jonathan Bamford said that designing in these principles would make ID management more effective and enhance society's confidence in the systems.

"Public confidence is like personal privacy," explained Bamford. "Once you've lost it, it's virtually impossible to retrieve it."

He told the audience that it is possible to build trust through effective ID management, and "by designing systems where you can actually design in data protection compliance rather than bolt it on as an afterthought". He said that one of the issues the Information Commissioner's Office is very keen on involves the use of privacy enhancing technologies and engineering ingenuity to enhance people's privacy.

"Those across central government in charge of procurement of large IT projects need to specify the fact that they care about people's privacy," he insisted.

Bamford argued that this is being done in other countries and the UK government needs to show that it values privacy to the same extent. In Austria, for example, he said that government databases hold only fractional personal ID numbers to prevent the state from building up a profile of an individual.

He also advised that consent has to be specific, informed and freely given, and organisations should not pretend they have consent when people have no real choice in how their data is used.

Gareth Crossman, policy director at human rights pressure group Liberty, said that it wants the ICO to have a far more proactive role in ensuring data protection. He warned that the detail and proportionality of information management programmes are often built into secondary legislation, over which parliamentarians also have limited power.

Another concern highlighted by Crossman was that once a database is in existence, there will always be incentives and pressures to use it more widely than its original purpose.

His claim countered that of Dr Duncan Hine, director of national identity scheme integrity for the Identity and Passport Office, who argued that the National ID Register would only hold ID information, not entitlement information, and that transaction logs would be limited so that they could not be used to plot individual behaviours.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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