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BCS accuses UK.gov of grabbing 'draconian' data powers

BCS, BMA line up to slam data giveaway law

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The British Computing Society has joined the chorus of criticism of the way the government has hidden major changes to data protection law in unrelated legislation - the Coroners and Justice Bill.

The BCS said the bill "runs counter to the intentions and provisions of the Data Protection Act (DPA)" and "severely curtails the independence of the Information Commissioner".

The organisation also said the law would be unlikely to pass muster under the Human Rights Act, could increase citizens' distrust of government and "could have disastrous consequences in the hands of a less benevolent government".

The Coroners and Justice Bill will allow more data sharing between government departments without any oversight from Parliament. In fact the bill will allow ministers to remove any legal barrier that might exist to data sharing.

The clauses added to the bill were based on the Data Sharing Review - written by the Information Commissioner Richard Thomas "in an independent capacity". The only thing a minister has to do before changing data sharing laws is the get the opinion of the ICO first.

The BCS is also concerned as to why such major changes to data sharing law are included in an unrelated piece of legislation rather than in a separate bill so the issues would be properly discussed.

The statement said: "BCS believes strongly that the process being used to introduce Information Sharing Orders as part of a much larger Bill concerned with other matters precludes sufficient public debate, discussion and Parliamentary scrutiny of proposals that involve novel and very general - some would say draconian - powers of great significance to every UK citizen and organisation."

Ian Ryder, BCS deputy CEO, said all the responses received from members agreed on one thing: "These proposals are far too ill-defined and general for their stated purpose, and are as a result potentially dangerous, and will do more harm than good."

Ryder added that the laws, used wrongly, "would permit the restriction - and ultimately the destruction - of the right to personal and corporate data privacy".

The British Medical Association has also criticised the bill, and asked what problem the law was trying to solve. "The BMA is not aware of any problems with legitmate information exchanges to which this clause would be the solution."

The doctors' group said that clause 152 of the bill "could potentially allow any Health Secretary access to individual health records. And it is very worrying that this Bill would allow a Secretay of State to strip patients and doctors of rights in relation to the control of sensitive health information."

The BMA said that trust between doctor and patient was very important, and that patients would be less likely to offer information to their doctor if they knew this information could be passed onto other government departments.

Neither the Justice Ministry nor the ICO were able to respond at the time of writing. ®

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