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MPs and Lords turn on government over data protection

'Insufficient respect'

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The Joint Committee on Human Rights, made up of MPs and Lords, today criticised "the Government's persistent failure to take data protection safeguards sufficiently seriously".

The Committee accepted that data sharing could be useful and can even enhance human rights protection, but called for a fundamental change in the way Brown's government legislates in this area.

It said too often government primary legislation facilitates data sharing and it falls to secondary legislation to provide data protection. This makes proper Parliamentary oversight of government data sharing very difficult.

The Committee also said the government has serious cultural issues in failing to deal with private data properly. The report said: "There is insufficient respect for the right to respect for personal data in the public sector." (sic)

The report also said: "We are surprised, and disappointed, to find that senior public officials need to be reminded of the main principles of the Data Protection Act."

The MPs and Lords laid into the executive as the British Computer Society's Data Guardianship Survey revealed today 66 per cent of people have less trust in the UK government's ability to keep their data properly since hearing about recent data losses. Public awareness of the Data Protection Act is very high - 90 per cent of respondents had at least heard of it.

In terms of checking what information is held on them far fewer people - only four per cent - had made requests under the DPA. But 16 per cent have run internet searches on their own names and 12 per cent had run credit checks using an agency.

But of the percentage who had requested information 15 per cent found wrong information which was corrected.

Assuming this figure is reflected across the country, then four per cent of the population has had wrong information about themselves corrected.

The problem is likely to be made worse by government data sharing as information, much of it wrong, is shared between departments.

Researchers spoke to 1,025 people between 11 and 15 January.

The Committee report is available as a pdf here, and the BCS survey is available in the same format here. ®

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