Maude responds to fears over data-sharing between government agencies

By David Bicknell

Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude has responded to a Guardian story which reported that ministers are planning to shake up the law on using confidential personal data to make it easier for public-sector organisations to share confidential information supplied by the public.

The article had argued that “the proposals are similar to ‘database state’ legislation abandoned by the last Labour government in 2009 in the face of fierce opposition. That legislation was intended to reverse the basic data protection principle that sensitive personal information provided to one government agency should not normally be provided to another agency for a different purpose without explicit consent.”

Maude has responded to the Guardian piece, saying, “One of the guiding principles of this Government is the restoration of civil liberties and rolling back the intrusive state; that is why one of our first legislative acts was to scrap ID cards. So it is wrong to say our proposals are similar to the previous government’s abandoned “database state” legislation.

“We want people to be able to interact with government online, for example, in applying for benefits or a disabled parking permit, in a way that is quick, easy and secure. To do this we need to give them a way of proving their identity online, but only if they choose to. This would be done without a national, central scheme.

“This is all about putting the citizen in charge, not the state. But we are still taking great care to carefully consult on our plans. Throughout all our work in this area we have proactively engaged with privacy and consumer groups including NO2ID, Privacy International, Which?, London School of Economics, Oxford Internet Institute and Big Brother Watch.

“In June the Cabinet Office will publish, in a white paper, plans for improving data-linking across government. What will not be published in this white paper are any “fast-track” proposals that would require changes to the existing legislative landscape. Any such proposals will need careful consideration with the involvement of the public and interest groups with whom we will continue to engage.

“This is not a question of increasing the volume of data-sharing that takes place across government, but ensuring an appropriate framework is in place so that government can deliver more effective, joined-up and personalised public services, through effective data-linking.”

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