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Britain’s proposals to allow sharing of personal data

Posted by James Hammerton @ 6:30 pm on 18 January, 2009.
Categories privacy and surveillance, British politics, the database state, accountability.
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The Coroners and Justice Bill was recently published and contains amendments to the Data Protection Act enabling government ministers to order the sharing of personal data.

To summarise:

  • Ministers at both Westminster and the devolved administrations will be able to issue “information sharing orders”(ISOs) that enable any person to share information that consists of or includes personal data, subject to conditions outlined below.
  • A Minister making an ISO must be satisfied that:
    • the sharing of information enabled by the order is necessary to secure a relevant policy objective.
    • the effect of the provision made by the order is proportionate to that policy objective, and
    • the provision made by the order strike a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person affected by it.
  • An ISO must specify the person or class of persons enabled to share information, the purposes for which the information may be shared and the information or class of information that may be shared.
  • An ISO may not enable any sharing of information which (in the absence of any provision made by the order) would be prohibited by Part 1 of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000.
  • An ISO may:
    • confer powers on the person in respect of whom it’s made.
    • remove or modify any prohibition or restriction imposed on the sharing of information by that person or on further or onward disclosure of information.
    • confer powers on any person to enable further or onward disclosure of the information
    • prohibit or restrict further or onward disclosure of the information
    • impose conditions on the sharing of information
    • provide for a person to exercise a discretion in dealing with any matter
    • enable information to be shared by or disclosed to the Minister making the order
    • modify any enactment
    • create offences punishable by upto 2 years in prison
  • Ministers are entitled to make ISOs only for purposes relevant to the departments they are in charge of.
  • A Minister proposing to make an ISO must allow a consultation with representations from those likely to be affected by the order, submit a draft of the order to the Information Commissioner and allow 21 days for the Information Commissioner to make a report, before putting the order before Parliament (or in the case of Scottish Ministers the Scottish Parliament).
  • ISOs will be made be statutory instrument requiring approval of both Houses of Parliament (or in the case of orders made by Ministers in the devolved administrations, approval of their respective legislatures).

In short, this will allow government ministers to order the sharing of personal information for any purpose they see fit. Note that the orders can even modify any legislation that might get in the way.

The government will claim that the requirement to consult and get a report from the Information Commissioner will be “safeguards”, but these requirements are fig leaves that will do nothing to stop a government intent on getting its way; a delay of 21 days is not much of a delay.

The government will also tout the requirement for a vote of approval from Parliament as a “safeguard”, but the level of scrutiny an ISO will get is minimal (statutory instruments often get only a 90 minute debate before being voted on) and the government will be in control of the procedures and timetable of Parliament.

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