Conservatives Plan To Scrap Public Databases, Enshrine Privacy Rights

The Conservative Party has said that it will scrap some Government databases and enshrine a right to privacy in legislation if it is elected to Government next year. It also said it will give the Information Commissioner new powers but no new funding.

The party has said that the plan represents its agenda for improving the protection of individuals' privacy and committed to scrapping the National Identity Register, the database of citizens which will form the backbone of the Government's identity card system.

"We believe that your personal information belongs to you, not the state," said its policy paper. "Where private details are collected by government, they are held on trust. The government must be held accountable to its citizens, not the other way round."

The party said that it would create a Bill of Rights which would protect personal privacy from what it calls "the surveillance state".

"The Conservative party has pledged to replace the Human Rights Act with a British Bill of Rights," it said. "As part of our ongoing review in this area, we will be examining the current level of protection of the individual against the surveillance state, with a view to strengthening personal privacy in a Bill of Rights."

The opposition party has said that it will demand that all legislation touching on the collection of personal data by Government will need to be analysed first for its privacy-invading potential. The Information Commissioner will be shown a privacy impact assessment on each relevant law and his views will be published, the party said.

The Conservatives also said that they will use primary legislation and not ministerial order if they want to permit more widespread data sharing on citizens between Government departments.

"As we have seen time and time again, over-reliance on the database state is a poor substitute for the human judgment and care essential to the delivery of frontline public services," said Dominic Grieve, the shadow justice secretary and publisher of the plan. "Labour’s surveillance state has exposed the public to greater, not less, risk."

The party said that it would give privacy watchdog the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) greater powers and independence.

"The Information Commissioner will be required to audit government departments and other pubic bodies, on a rotating annual basis, and granted the powers required to discharge these functions," said the Conservative plan. "These will include ad hoc powers of inspection and financial penalties for the deliberate, reckless or grossly negligent management of data."

A party spokesman told the Financial Times, though, that the ICO would not receive additional resources to carry out these additional duties. The ICO has repeatedly said that it needs more resources.

The Conservatives said that they preferred the ICO to take on more duties to passing more laws.

"We believe that rather than burdening the public sector with onerous new regulation and red-tape, a more effective means would be to ensure greater audit and sanctions for the worst abuses of data security," it said in its policy paper.

The proposals also included plans to stop the retention of DNA information on innocent people in the DNA database.