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Info commissioner says comms database is leap too far

Thomas demands proper debate

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Information Commissioner Richard Thomas said today that government plans for a communications database are a step too far and need proper public debate.

Speaking at the launch of the regulator's annual report Thomas said: "I am absolutely clear that the targeted, and duly authorised, interception of the communications of suspects can be invaluable in the fight against terrorism and other serious crime. But there needs to be the fullest public debate about the justification for, and implications of, a specially-created database – potentially accessible to a wide range of law enforcement authorities – holding details of everyone’s telephone and internet communications."

Thomas said recent examples such as the extension of the DNA database and increasing use of ANPR cameras showed the government was grabbing more and more private data without proper public, or Parliamentary debate.

The ICO is today filing enforcement notices to Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs and the Ministry of Defence asking what progress they have made to tighten up procedures following their recent data breaches.

The ICO annual report (pdf) also revealed the regulator received 2,646 complaints in the year and closed 51 per cent within a month, but 36 per cent are still open. An informal solution was found for 48 per cent of cases in the year, while 14 per cent ended with a decision notice being served and 33 per cent were ineligible for some reason.

Of the 395 decision notices closed in the year, 30 per cent resulted in an upheld complaint, 25 per cent in a complaint not upheld and 45 per cent saw partially upheld complaints.

Freedom of Information requests closed in the period were mostly to government - 39 per cent to local government, 29 per cent to central government, ten per cent to police and criminal justice organisations, nine per cent to health bodies, four per cent to education organisations and just one per cent to private companies.

Public awareness of the issues seem to be improving - the ICO reckons 90 per cent of people are aware that they have a right to see information held about them. ®

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