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The Scottish Government plans to reduce the amount of information on citizens held by large public databases and curb the collection and use of personal data by public authorities.

A consultation on its plans has just begun. The Scottish Government, run by the Scottish National Party in a minority administration, has the backing of the UK Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) for its plans.

It has proposed a set of Identity Management and Privacy Principles with which public bodies will have to comply. The principles move the Scottish Government away from the trend of building very large public databases of personal information.

"Organisations should avoid creating large centralised databases of personal information and store personal and transactional data separately," said a statement outlining the plans. "People should only be asked for identity when necessary and they should be asked for as little information as possible."

Pinsent Masons privacy law expert Rosemary Jay was part of the expert group which drafted the proposals. Pinsent Masons is the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM.

"While we do have laws that apply to this information they are sometimes complicated and often there can be different views as to what sort of approach to take," she said. "The different views on the retention of DNA data are an example of this."

"These guidelines are practical, focused and can be applied by public authorities without having to review every legal sub-section," said Jay.

The principles will apply to all public bodies, and any private or voluntary sector organisations which deliver public services, the Scottish Government said.

"These guiding principles are aimed at everyone who is responsible for complying with requirements to protect personal information," said Scottish finance secretary John Swinney. "The principles are important and relevant to a wide range of public sector staff, both those who deal directly with the public and also staff involved in designing and operating systems.

"Public services which store and manage people's identity information must respect the privacy of individuals," he said. "Recent incidents where data has not been treated with due care are regrettable and avoidable. I want the public to feel confident that data is secure and their privacy is safeguarded."

"The ICO welcomes this initiative of the Scottish Government," said Ken Macdonald, Assistant Information Commissioner for Scotland. "At the ICO we urge all public bodies to ensure that data protection is treated as an important part of corporate governance. Safeguarding personal information must be embedded in organisational culture and no public body should be taking risks with Scottish individuals' personal details."

The guidelines stipulate that privacy impact assessments must be carried out in relation to new Scottish Government plans and that any body gathering personal data must explain why they are doing so and how it will be used.

Copyright © 2009, OUT-LAW.com

OUT-LAW.COM is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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