The British Computer Society and the Information Commissioner’s Office have joined the growing swell of concern about the data sharing provisions of the Coroners and Justice Bill.
The BCS says it is concerned that the Bill, which is now making its way through Parliament, “runs counter to the intentions and provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998” and could undermine trust in government IT initiatives.
And the ICO has called for the proposals to be more tightly defined, restricted, and backed up with legal safeguards.
The Bill would allow one of the central principles of the DPA – that information collected for one purpose by one organisation should not be used by another organisation for another – to be set aside.
It would allow ministers to issue an "information sharing order" as long as this will be in support of a public policy and held to be in the public interest.
The BCS said this would “devalue the principle of informed consent that lies at the heart of the DPA” which could “heighten distrust that citizens have of government and central initiatives” and have “disastrous consequences in the hands of a less benevolent government.”
It also argued that the measures might not survive a challenge under Article 8 of the Human Rights Act, which guarantees a respect for private and family life.
In a commentary on its website, the ICO said the measures should be restricted to “precisely defined circumstances in which there is a legal barrier to information sharing that would be in the public interest” and that “large scale data sharing initiatives that would constitute significant changes to public policy” should be excluded.
It also argued that it should be stated explicitly that any data made subject to an information sharing order was still protected by the DPA and the Human Rights Act.
The BCS said it has become increasingly concerned about the “burgeoning power of the state vis a vis the citizen” as a result of taking part in a number of inquiries into government data initiatives, including NHS plans to open up personal information to researchers.
Deputy chief executive Ian Ryder said the latest proposals: “Are far too ill defined and general for their stated purpose, and are as a result potentially dangerous. Past experience suggests it is unwise to rely on the benevolence of government to sensitively deploy such wide-ranging and general powers as these.”
The British Medical Association has also expressed concern about the Bill and called for health data to be exempted from its provisions.