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UK weakens supervision of Data Protection Act

Bills could remove Info Commissioner's independence

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In general, this block of guaranteed support for the government on any given parliamentary vote accounts for the fact that it is very rare for government to be defeated. Additionally, as most MPs want to become ministers, the Whips ensure that frequent “rocking the boat” usually ends that prospect. Sometimes, MPs who continually cause trouble could face threats of reselection if their party loyalty is continually called into question.

This explains why Parliament is a generally compliant body. There is no separation of powers as in the USA, where parliament can scrutinise the executive. This is because the executive has a significant block vote in the scrutinising chambers of Parliament, and the Whips (also part of the executive) dictate how MPs from the governing party vote.

So if there were to be a dispute about the Government’s processing of personal data, the only MPs likely to pick up the issue are the opposition ones – who have no power. As seen regularly with the last government, ministers plough on regardless of what is said in Parliamentary Committee reports (like the ones from the Joint Committee of Human Rights or the Home Affairs Select Committee on surveillance). The record shows that these reports are often ignored.

In other words, reducing the number of MPs also reduces the scrutiny of government by parliament. So if government wants its way with respect to the processing of personal data, then do not expect parliament to protect the individual from the overbearing state. If the Information Commissioner steps out of line, then there again there is a risk that his powers to intervene could be reduced or removed by Ministerial order. Again, do not expect the Government to lose that vote.

These bills can change the relationship between the individual and the state. Not only are we are “sleepwalking into a surveillance society” (to use the ICO’s popular phrase), we are also watching the government taking powers to remove the independence of the Information Commissioner and reduce the ability of parliament to protect that independence if the Information Commissioner were to act against government in order to protect privacy.

Whether the above effects are deliberate or inadvertent can be argued. What can’t be argued is that the Coalition Government is creating a very dangerous structure that cannot guarantee individual privacy. ®

This story originally appeared at HAWKTALK, the blog of Amberhawk Training Ltd.

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