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Data experts urge Government to rethink Digital Economy Bill



Members of Cabinet Office privacy group among those signing open letter on fears around data sharing provisions in ongoing legislation

A group of 26 academics, privacy activists and officials of professional associations have called on the Government to either provide proper safeguards or drop the information sharing provisions in the Digital Economy Bill.

They have made the call through an open letter, published in today’s Daily Telegraph (paywall), claiming that the clauses in the bill enabling the sharing of personal data between different parts of government, and private companies, weakens the protection of sensitive information on individuals.

The move follows last week’s warning through UKAuthority by Jerry Fishenden (pictured), co-chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG), that the bill will shift control of personal data from the citizen to the state, and is likely to conflict with the EU General Data Protection Regulation, which comes into force in 2018.

Fishenden is one of the signatories of the letter, along with other members of the PCAG such as Professor Angela Sasse, head of information security research at University College London, and Dr Gus Hosein, executive director of Privacy International. Other signatories come from a collection of universities, civil rights groups and data security organisations, along with BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT and the Association of British Drivers.

The letter says that if the bill cannot include the technical and legal safeguards the Government should drop the data sharing elements completely.

Threat to trust

Fishenden told UKAuthority: “The letter reflects widespread concern across a wide variety of organisations and professionals about the current data sharing proposals. Citizens must have trust in what the Government does, including that their personal data will not be misused or abused.

“It’s essential that modern technology is used well to improve our public services, to reduce cybercrime and fraud, and to enable better informed policymaking through access to more accurate and timely data – particularly to assist the most vulnerable in society. 

“Yet the government policy of letting citizens have access to and control over their own personal data is contradicted by the current data sharing proposals. It’s unlikely that it will produce the policy outcomes intended and could well cause unintended outcomes, including a loss of citizen trust in government at the very time when it’s trying to move more services online.”

He said there should be clear guidance for officials, and mechanisms for holding the organisations involved to account on how it is used.

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