On public sector data sharing

Freer data sharing within the public sector would be extremely interesting to digital and analytics folk in health, local and central government sectors. A lack of clarity on what is allowed – outside of the specific purposes laid down in piecemeal legislation – acts as a real check on new initiatives, from early intervention to fraud detection. 

The public sensitivity which ultimately led to the ignominious collapse of Care.data left many in government wary of further action to enable data sharing. Still, Cabinet Office has been quietly making progress on the issue – to the extent that draft legislation is now available for consultation.

The draft bill on the table, which would apply to England, Wales and non-devolved functions in Scotland and Northern Ireland, is much more spicy than the bland Cabinet Office rhetoric about improving citizens’ lives might suggest.

Most radical is a proposal to grant public authorities a general right to share personal data between them for the purposes of personalised service delivery to “disadvantaged” individuals and households. The text suggests a number of ways in which the scope of the law could be broadened in future, including removing the need for personal permission in the case of safeguarding, national security or emergency situations; and the suggestion that a Minister would retain powers to amend certain aspects of the law.  There are other specific provisions, including a default right for ONS to access data, one enabling fraud detection, and one on disclosure of civil registration data.

This latter, with its echoes of the identity projects which have so exercised privacy campaigners, seems likely to raise questions. The proposals were put together in conjunction with civil society representatives, in the hope that this would produce something acceptable to the activists who have blocked previous attempts. We will find out in due course whether that proves to be the case.

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