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Government grants itself even more data sharing power

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The government's proposals to increase data sharing between departments will be buried in the Coroners and Justice Bill - which is expected to be presented to the House of Commons today.

The bill is expected to include measures covering the government's response to the Data Handling Review, which we covered here. In essence these will allow more data sharing between different arms of government - because we all know that current arrangements are too tight and too rigorously followed, don't we?

Recommendation 8 (a and b) was accepted by the government - it gives the Secretary of State the right to remove "an existing legal barrier to data sharing".

Although the government response generally agreed that departments should admit who else they are sharing information with there were three provisos - national security, confidentiality agreements and market sensitivity. The last two have been routinely used to suppress information about government IT contracts.

Lobby group No2ID expects the Bill to be pushed through its first reading on Friday.

Phil Booth, NO2ID National Coordinator, said:

Rather than protecting our personal information, as it should be, the government is cutting away safeguards for its own data-trafficking convenience. This is a Bill to smash the rule of law and build the database state in its place.

Burying sweeping constitutional change in obscure Bills is an appalling approach. Having proved - and admitted - they cannot be trusted to look after our secrets, they are still determined to steal what privacy we have left. Parliament needs to wake up before it has no say any more.

A Ministry of Justice Spokesperson said:

Sharing data is essential for the delivery of efficient and effective joined-up public services, tackling crime and protecting the public. The new power will lead to a more streamlined process for policies requiring data sharing whilst at the same time allowing fuller parliamentary scrutiny. Any draft Order would require Parliamentary approval and a Privacy Impact Assessment.

Additionally, the Information Commissioner would have been invited to comment on the proposals. This will ensure that any potential privacy issues and risks are identified and examined. 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.

Although the government has gone some way to increase the ICO's powers and funding, these proposals will also increase the burden on the watchdog. ®

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