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Data sharing and a digitally transformed public sector


To meet the challenge of ever increasing demand for services with seemingly ever decreasing budgets, the ability of the public sector to analyse, share and safeguard data will be crucial

Digital transformation of public services is inevitable – indeed, desirable - but to truly reap the benefits proffered by the age of digital, there must be the capability to share and analyse data about service delivery and the user need. In other words, an ability sector-wide to safely work with sensitive information about people.

Two key pieces of legislation that will massively impact how the sector does this are hovering on the horizon: the EU General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) - which the UK plans to adopt despite Brexit - and the Digital Economy Bill.

The GDPR will come into force in the spring of 2018 when the UK will still be an EU member. In November, secretary of state for Culture, Media and Sport Karen Bradley confirmed that it would therefore “be expected and quite normal for us to opt into the GDPR”.

Meanwhile the Digital Economy Bill (DEB) is wending its way through Parliament – past the House of Commons and now on track for the Lords - with the aim of loosening some of the restrictions on sharing personal data in the public sector in three core areas: improving the outcomes of services for people in need; reducing fraud in public services; and using data for research.

Heated debate

Both of these fledgling laws have been the subject of heated discussion. Speculation over the UK adopting EU law post Brexit has now been firmly quashed. But the Digital Economy Bill is still proving contentious – not least because of its ‘snoopers' charter’ elements - but also due to potential conflicts between its data sharing provisions and the data protections in the GDPR.

Last month, Jerry Fishenden, co-chair of the Cabinet Office’s Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG), told UKAuthority that the bill will shift control of personal data from the citizen to the state, and is indeed likely to conflict with the EU General Data Protection Regulation.

A group of 26 academics, privacy activists and officials of professional associations – including Fishenden – subsequently called on the Government, in an open letter to the Daily Telegraph, to either provide proper safeguards or drop the information sharing provisions in the Digital Economy Bill.

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.”

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

What do you think about the benefits – and pitfalls – of data sharing in a digital public sector with GDPR and the Digital Economy Bill? UKAuthority has teamed up with Civica to research the views of those on the ground. Tell us your views in this quick (five minutes!) survey and we will report back in the New Year.



Image: iStock/peterhowell

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