On a very private Scottish Christmas

Elves in the icy North are getting ready to distribute tax gifts, according to the list of who’s naughty (those earning over £33,000) and nice (those earning less than £33,000 and public sector workers). The draft Scottish Budget published yesterday included a number of other changes to Scottish fiscal policy, but income tax garnered the headlines since this the first time Santa has chosen to use his powers to vary rates for Scottish taxpayers.

Although political arguments over the budget will continue throughout Christmas and Hogmanay, the work of Revenue Scotland will not change since HMRC continues to administer income tax on behalf of the Scottish government, using its data sharing powers to identify Scottish taxpayers.

Public sector data sharing and digital identity has been controversial in Scotland ever since the botched attempt to expand the existing Scottish NHS register into a fully-fledged citizen ID database. Two years later, under festive cover, Holyrood has launched a new plan for identity assurance. They know when you are sleeping, they know when you’re awake … but never fear, there’s a discovery and consultation period aimed at winning over privacy campaigners.

ID assurance for the Scottish public sector is likely to look less like Big Brother and more like GOV.UK Verify, with public sector data sources being used to verify identity rather than consolidated into a single database. But although the programme will ‘explore’ the use of Verify, one suspects this will mainly provide lessons in what not to do. Attempt to build a commercial marketplace for identity, for example. Citizen ID assurance is a key building block of digital public services and where Whitehall has failed, Holyrood has a golden opportunity to get it right from the start.

Of course, the irony is that campaigners’ fears have been rendered almost irrelevant by the Digital Economy Act passed earlier this year, since public sector organisations now have potentially wide-ranging powers to share and exploit citizen data without need of a central data store. Cue an even quieter announcement from Holyrood this week, which is consulting on which Scottish public bodies will be given special dispensation under the Act.

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