An urgent threat to UK privacy rights

J.R. Hermeneut asks, apropos of this:

One is a Labour Party member… why exactly?

Now, perhaps I’m just being paranoid, but I’m going to take that as being directed to me ;-). And since my answer won’t fit into 140 characters, I’m dusting off this slightly dormant blog in order to do so.

And my answer is: good question. Bloody good question. This sort of thing is exactly why I fell out with Labour in the first place. Watch this space.

This all relates to No2ID’s warning about clause 152 in the Coroners and Justice Bill, which is about to have its second reading in the Commons. For those who enjoy reading legislation, clause 152 is available here.

This clause, if passed into law, will allow any government minister to issue an “information sharing order” enabling any person – including commercial organisations to “share” personal data, where “necessary to secure a relevant policy objective”.

“Share” in this context has the novel meaning of “disclose” or “use for a purpose other than that for which it was obtained”. “Relevant policy objective” simply means any policy objective of the minister concerned.

It is difficult to overstate the potential implications of this provision. One of the fundamental principles undergirding data protection legislation is that individuals know (a) who is holding personal information about them, and (b) the purposes to which that information is being used. This clause allows that principle to be set aside simply for the sake of a minister’s “policy objectives”.

There is no restriction on the type of data that can be covered by an information sharing order or the persons to whom it may apply. Initially, one assumes the intention is to populate the new national ID database with information taken from tax records or electoral rolls. However, it could be used to allow medical data to be sold to private contractors (though with “appropriate safeguards”, no doubt).

No2ID describe this as being “as grave a threat to privacy as the entire ID Scheme”, and it’s hard to argue with that. As they put it:

Combine it with the index to your life formed by the planned National Identity Register and everything recorded about you anywhere could be accessible to any official body.

No2ID are urging people to write to their MPs now to ask them to vote against this measure, which has been buried in a bill which purports to be a largely administrative measure which aims to do such apparently-blameless things as improve the coroner system and “strengthen the Information Commissioner’s inspection powers and improve the sharing of information”.

I had to laugh though at these words at the start of the bill:


Secretary Jack Straw has made the following statement under section 19(1)(a) of the Human Rights Act 1998:

In my view the provisions of the Coroners and Justice Bill are compatible with the Convention rights.

Jack Straw considers these measures to be compatible with the Human Rights Act. Were less reassuring words ever penned?


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