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Stats office deal sparks confidentiality fears

Possible Patriot Act entanglement raises hackles

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A union is warning that the privacy of sensitive information could be put at risk by a statistics agency IT deal.

Proposals by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) to outsource its IT functions to Fujitsu Services have prompted fears from the civil service union over confidentiality of data.

The Public and Commercial Services Union expressed concerns that plans to hand over work to the company, which is part of the Fujitsu multinational group, may risk the disclosure of private information as a result of the USA Patriot Act.

Under the terms of the Act, companies with operations in the America have to provide personal data to the US government. The union fears this could make UK companies and individuals less willing to provide commercially and personally sensitive data to the high-profile ONS.

Peter Harris, the union's national officer, said: "The ONS produces a range of statistical products that are crucial to the economic planning of both the government and the private sector.

"The department, in turn, relies on businesses to supply their own data on a regular basis, to ensure that its statistics are accurate.

"That requires the contributing businesses to have absolute confidence that the confidentiality of such sensitive information will be protected.

"If the ONS now transfers a large part of its IT work to Fujitsu, there will be concerns about access to this data, which in turn could affect the smooth running of the ONS' business. We are calling on the department to reconsider its plans and to retain this work in-house."

A spokesperson for the ONS said that a final decision on the potential business deal with Fujitsu will be taken on 28 September.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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