Details of millions of Britons could be shared across Whitehall for the first time without their consent Photo: Alamy
Matthew Holehouse, Political correspondent
10:30PM BST 03 Aug 2014
Details of the financial history, qualifications and property wealth of
millions of Britons could be shared across Whitehall for the first time
without their consent, the Telegraph can reveal.
Information including voters’ driving licences, criminal records, energy use
and even whether they use a bus pass could be shared under a radical
blueprint to link up thousands of state databases used by schools, councils,
police and civil servants.
The proposals are likely to ignite privacy concerns if officials are granted
unprecedented access to citizens’ private data.
It will also trigger fears that data could be lost, in the wake of a notorious
error in 2007 that saw CDs carrying the child benefit records of 25 million
people go missing in the post.
Ministers believe the ability to aggregate and “mine” citizens’ data under a
new legal framework will allow them to better monitor economic growth and
population movements, identify troubled families and elderly people in need
of support, and cut fraud.
They want to copy sophisticated customer analysis techniques developed by
retailers such as Amazon and Tesco to develop a significantly more
“intelligent”, “nimble” and cheaper State.
The proposals are contained in a “discussion document” produced by the Cabinet
Office Data Sharing Policy Team in April.
Ministers are “acutely sensitive” to public concerns about privacy, the
However, it is understood they are split as to when the public should be
consulted, and fear the project could be derailed if there was a damaging
showdown with privacy campaigners. Groups including Liberty and Big Brother
Watch have already been consulted, it is understood.
The proposals, drawn up by Francis Maude, will be contained in a White Paper
published in the Autumn. It may feature draft legislation for introduction
after the 2015 election, according to sources.
At present, people’s personal information is governed by the Data Protection
Act and a web of legislation, often decades old, that underpins different
government bodies – making it all but impossible for it to be shared outside
one department without the specific investigatory powers granted to police
and tax inspectors.
The document notes: “People tend to assume that Government can share data
between departments to complete simple tasks, and are surprised to learn
that it cannot.
“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”.
The memorandum outlines options allowing researchers to access and merge
entire datasets – such as education, employment and wealth data – that have
been anonymised in order to study social trends.
Such information could help inform social mobility policies, by linking wealth
and university records, or track how criminal records match benefit claims.
It could also improve energy efficiency by matching people’s gas and
electricity use with information about their property held by the Land
Registry, the paper says.
But the document also outlines far more intrusive measures allowing
non-anonymised information about individuals, in particular the elderly, to
be traded so they can be given more intensive state assistance.
Under one scenario, retired people at risk in cold weather could be
identified, possibly by their fuel bills or property information, as needing
insulation or fuel payments, under a move to cut winter deaths and
Under another scenario, troubled families, people in gangs and unemployed
teenagers would be identified using school, police and council data. One
source raised the case of Baby P, where the infant died due to a failure of
police and social workers to share information about abuse.
Under the most wide-ranging option being considered, private data could be
shared by “all bodies providing public services” – permitting private
companies to receive unprecedented amounts of citizens’ data.
The document adds: “The key bodies may include government departments, local
authorities, local emergency services, police, schools.”
Citizens may have no choice over whether their private data is shared. The
proposals merely say it is an “option” to discuss “how best to ensure that
consent is used where appropriate.”
The document says the public would benefit “through improve outcomes in
health, education or employment.”
Ministers believe they could save the state up to £37 billion a year in error
and fraud if they were able to harmonise thousands of state databases.
That could include checking whether bus pass holders are still alive, or
establishing whether people claiming council tax rebates are really students.
It could also be used to combat immigration fraud by preventing passports and
national insurance numbers being issued to those who do not have a right to
live in Britain, according to one source.
Safeguards under discussion include new laws punishing the abuse or leaking of
personal data and greater powers and resources for the information watchdog.
A Cabinet Office spokesperson said: “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.
“The Cabinet Office 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
ongoing and we cannot pre-empt the solutions that it may produce.”
See full article at The Telegraph
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