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

document says.

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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