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Government data review grants more data sharing power

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Buried in the small print of the government's response to the Data Sharing Review is a line which grants the secretary of state power "to permit or require the sharing of personal information between particular specified persons, where a robust case for so doing exists."

Although the Information Commissioner, who wrote the report in "an independent capacity" (along with Dr Mark Walport from the Wellcome Trust), is likely to be granted some stronger powers and better funding the response also offers the government more power to over-ride existing data protection measures.

Lobby group No2ID said: "The key recommendation is 8(a), which proposes that whenever a department desires to use existing information for new purposes, ministers should have the power to make regulations to let it do so.

"They could set aside confidentiality and data-protection in the existing law or allow information that has been collected by government for one purpose to be used for a completely different one – without any new legislation or even a debate in parliament."

The response calls for primary legislation to provide the Secretary of State with a power by Order to remove or modify any legal barrier to data sharing by "repealing or amending other primary legislation, changing any other rule of law, creating a new power to share information where that power is currently absent".

The only caveat to this is that the minister should get the ICO's opinion before making such an order. The full report is available from here as an 80-page pdf.

A spokeswoman for the ICO told us that information transferred in this way will still be subject to the Data Protection Act.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice said the ICO opinion would be made in writing and would be available to both Houses and that draft Orders will also be supported by a Privacy Impact Assessment.

She added: "The power will be exercised only in circumstances where the sharing of the information is in the public interest and proportionate to the impact on any person adversely affected by it." So that's alright then. ®

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