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Government reveals new controversial data sharing plans

UK citizens’ information, including financial history, qualifications and property of wealth could be shared across central government without their consent. Whitehall is proposing to link up thousands of state databases used by schools, councils, police and civil services.

Under the blueprint, data such as voters’ driving licences, criminal records, energy use and bus pass use could be shared.

The aim of this scheme is to allow better monitoring of economic growth, population movements, identifying troubled families or elderly people needing support and cutting fraud.

Cabinet Office Minister Francis Maude is responsible for drawing up the proposals that first appeared in a “discussion document” published by the Department’s Data Sharing Policy Team in April.

It is believed that they will be officially released in a white paper in the autumn, alongside draft legislation to be introduced after the 2015 General Election.

“People tend to assume that government can share data between departments to complete simple tasks and are surprised to learn that it cannot,” claims the document.

“Removing barriers to sharing or linking datasets can help government to design and implement evidence-based policy – for example to tackle social mobility, assist economic growth and prevent crime,” it adds.

Information allows individuals to be identified

However, some potential measures outlined in the document could be perceived as intrusive – some non-anonymised information would be allowed to be traded under the new guidelines.

This in particular applies to the elderly, under the belief that freely sharing identifiable information will help to provide more intensive state assistance.

Concern has also been raised by a section of the document that proposes allowing private data to be shared with all bodies providing public services – potentially permitting private organisations to receive citizens’ data.

Cabinet office claims precautions will be taken

“Before a decision can be taken on whether to introduce draft legislation, it is important that a wide range of views, from within and outside government, are understood,” said the Cabinet Office.

“[The Department] is leading an open policy-making process, working in partnership with civil society and privacy organisations to develop policy proposals for areas where we believe data sharing, as one possible option, could significantly improve the way we currently work.

“This process is on-going and we cannot pre-empt the solutions that it may produce,” it claimed.