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back to article UK.gov data sell-off row: HMRC denies claims it'll flog YOUR private info

"There is no question of HMRC selling data." That's the promise from Whitehall, which is floating the idea of "sharing" sensitive taxpayer information with private businesses. It's the latest in a series of attempts from the Tory-led coalition to turn public and not-so-public data into a moneyspinner for UK PLC. A period of …

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Stop

Bah!

When the government say that the country is open for business, they really mean it.

By that I mean that they seem prepared to allow any old business to paw through our personal records, but that when it comes to things like negotiations on treaties like TAFTA (Tranatlantic Free Trade Area) aka TTIP, then the doors are locked tight and the public kept well away. Then it's big business only. Still I suppose that the politicians must do their paymasters a few favours in return for all the largess they receive.

Is there nothing that they won't sell? I mean they gave the Postcode Address File as a sweetner to ensure that the sell-off of the Post Office succeeded. They have plans to give our most sensitive and personal details to the highest bidder with the sale of our medical records and now this little earner.

I used to think that Parliament was filled with lawyers, now I'm not so sure. It looks like accountants have seized the reins, you know, those characters who know the price of everything and the value of none.

The sooner this bunch of spivs is booted out the better.

One thing does occur to me, will MPs arrange that their data is left off these lists?

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Re: Bah!

The sooner this bunch of spivs is booted out the better.

Two words ... Tony and Gordon B. No that isn't a massive endorsement for the current regime, just wondering who you would like to replace the 'Spivs' with?

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Re: Bah!

"...just wondering who you would like to replace the 'Spivs' with?"

Aye, there's the rub.

I suppose we could ask that nice Mr. Farage to have a go.

After all UKIP has no record of governance or really anything else except shouting so might not yet be in bed with big business. Though who knows?

Then there are the Greens.

I reckon that they might be the one party immune from "corporate hospitality"

On second thoughts, maybe "none of the above" should be on the ballot paper. Then at least there would be one choice acceptable to a lot of people.

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Big Brother

Re: Bah!

And of course the elected MPS all come up with the ideas themselves.

The unelected support team behind every minister never really changes - the "Yes, Minister" icon is perfect.

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Re: Bah!@ nematoad

A few years back there was a fellow on this side of the pond, running for some office or another, who had his name legally changed to "None of the Above" and wanted it placed on the ballot that way. He probably would have won in a landslide, but he he was late and missed the filing deadline. Bummer...

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N2

Re: Bah!

"Just wondering who you would like to replace the 'Spivs' with?"

More Spivs thats who, as all politicians are in it for themselves

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Anonymous Coward

It's getting a bit like Facebook

Like care.data I only heard about this in passing a couple of weeks ago. It seems that holding large data sets of commercial value proves to be too tempting for cash-strapped public sector bodies, resulting in plans to sell subsets of data to interested organisations. We are told that of course the recipients will be vetted and that the data will be aggregated and anonymised, but the people telling us this are not experts in the subject and it's been shown repeatedly how supposedly anonymous data can be de-anonymised.

These plans encroach on our privacy and slowly creep in scope, like Facebook rolling out new features and requiring people to opt out yet again. I can choose not to engage with Facebook but I cannot choose not to engage with HMRC or the NHS. All I can do is watch my data get taken away and sold based on flawed understandings from commercially driven non-experts.

HMRC are saying it's okay, they have no plans after all. But the idea is out now, it's in people's minds, give it a couple of years and we'll be having the same conversation, just as care.data has gone into hiding and will be back again wearing new clothes in a few months.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: It's getting a bit like Facebook

". I can choose not to engage with Facebook but I cannot choose not to engage with HMRC or the NHS. All I can do is watch my data get taken away and sold based on flawed understandings from commercially driven non-experts."

The idea only really works if you allow people to opt out of taxation if they don't want their data sold, the problem being that anybody sensible would opt out of taxation given the opportunity.

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Re: It's getting a bit like Facebook

"the problem being that anybody sensible would opt out of taxation given the opportunity."

And expect everyone else to pay for your use of roads, ambulances, etc. But what happens when everyone has opted out of taxation? Oh, yeah, a libertarian paradise. Right.

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"There is no question of HMRC selling data."

Meaning, I presume, that no-one is asking the question "should we/shouldn'we?".

It's quite apparent these days that criminal sanctions is no barrier to information leakage, so why do they think that it is all they need to ensure security of the data? Or why do they think we are stupid enough to believe it?

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Re: "There is no question of HMRC selling data."

The way I interpret that is that it's a no-brainer they are going to.

Right I'd better go back and read the rest of the article now to find out.

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Paris Hilton

Not for sale

Headline says " Now HMRC denies claims it will sell taxpayer info".

Article quotes discussion paper " This would not be charging for the data itself, purely covering the costs of providing it."

So answer seems to be "Won't be selling it. Will be giving it away."

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Semantic shuffle

It looks as though they will be selling access to the data rather than the data itself.

Sir Humphrey 1, public and common sense 0

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Its my data, not yours...

Dear HMRC,

I provide you data so you can check I am paying the correct amount of tax. It is my data, not yours.

I do not provide it for sale, or any other purpose. The first time you hawk it, release it to a wider audience, share it, or leak it - pick any euphamism you choose, it will be the last time I supply you with accurate data. I understand that will make your job harder, but that will be your own doing.

Your desire to make a few pence out of my data isn't sufficient for me to endure targetted advertising linked to my income or assets. I value my right to privacy more than I value your right to collect taxes.

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Re: Its my data, not yours... @TopOnePercent

I'm not sure I agree.

Data is data. It may be information about you, but you probably cannot claim to own it. In the case of the HMRC, they could be the custodian of the data, but even then, the only reason they could claim to own it was because they have gone to the effort to collect it.

But not everything they know about you is provided by you. Your employer is under a legal obligation to provide data to HMRC (as indeed you are). They may also have data about what benefits you have received, and if you have been under any form of tax investigation, they may have been given access to other data kept by other parties about you. I'm not saying that they don't have an obligation to keep the information private, nor am I saying that other people knowing it could not put you at a disadvantage, but don't claim ownership.

The only data that you can truly claim to own is that which you create yourself. If you do something like write, then what you write (assuming that it is not done under any pre-agreed contract) is probably yours, and you can claim ownership. If it is data about you, then you did not explicitly create it, and you cannot claim to own it.

This is my opinion, and not based on any legal knowledge. I would be interested to hear what other people think.

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Re: Its my data, not yours... @TopOnePercent

Data is data. It may be information about you, but you probably cannot claim to own it.

'Ownership' in my experience is usually meant as a euphemism for 'having control over its disclosure and distribution' and that usually indicates a belief one should have such control but very likely one doesn't in reality.

We need to escape this "ownership" term as it is often false as it is traditionally understood. We need some other word or phrase to describe what rights we have./ should have to control how others can disclose or distribute information or data which relates to ourselves.

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Re: Its my data, not yours... @TopOnePercent

I think the data protection act actually disagrees with you here, certain data is defined as being your data and you can ask for it not to be shared and told exactly what is held. Seeing as HMRC have never sought my permission to give 3rd parties access to the data, it violates the data protection act. So be interesting to see what the courts have to say about the issue.

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Re: Its my data, not yours... @bigtimehustler

The data protection act talks about personally identifiable data, and defines it as being about someone, not belonging to them.

It has always been an exception to the data protection act that information stripped of the identity of the person that it is about is no longer covered by the act.

The problem lies in what is identifiable data. Obviously, name, address, telephone number all count as identifiable data. But hair colour, height, route you travel to work, and even things like salary are not actually unique enough to be considered as identifying data. But where this breaks down is that several pieces of data which by themselves do not identify a person, might in combination be enough to provide a key to link the all data in a particular record to an individual.

This is a problem that has come about because of the increase in power of the computers, and the increased sophistication of the analytical software that processes the data. This is was the crux of the arguments against care.data. So-called anonymous data is rendered identifiable.

On the subject of ownership. My house has an address. This has personal relevance to me because I currently live there. The fact that I live there currently does not mean that the text that make up the address is in itself is owned by me. I cannot ask the Royal Mail to remove it from their post-code database. I have no control over it. I do now 'own' the text of the address.

I totally agree with what Jason Bloomberg said in a follow up comment to my original. Jason. Have a thumbs-up from me.

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Alien

Re: Its my data, not yours... @TopOnePercent

If it is man-made then it belongs to man and man must manage it.

If it is not manmade then it must be natural or godmade data and then needs different discernment?

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Welcome to our country

This is the UK. This is what we wanted. As an electorate we voted for this and not just this coalition. We keep demanding better services, more welfare, more healthcare, more education, more more more.

Where did people assume the money came from when labour tanked the economy years before the crash (yes there were a few of us pointing this out)? And of course this gov and the many before have bribed voters with more but where did the magic money come from? The rich aint stupid, they move their money away from the monster of public finances which has unlimited capacity for consumption.

Sometimes the UK electorate seem like an unhappy prostitute. Happy to sell yourself for money, obvious your gonna get boned yet still crying about it afterwards.

And the more money the tax man takes the more he wants. But what happens when taxing more might kill the golden goose? Sell its feathers!

We cant keep voting for parties to have parties with our money and then expect them not to raise the money any way they can. They are acting on our behalf and for them to give you the toys you demand they have to make money. But anyone who thinks about it has to accept that the gov doesnt make money and doesnt create jobs. They can only take money and cost jobs.

In the end I am against the selling of my data, but me like many others were drowned out by the majority. The majority who want to keep spending other peoples money and racking up great debts on the backs of others.

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Re: Welcome to our country

"But anyone who thinks about it has to accept that the gov doesnt make money and doesnt create jobs."

Complete rubbish. Government can invest to create jobs. It can subsidise projects to attract further investment. It doesn't have to make money on the deal, just get enough back from the increased tax revenue over the longer term (and the consequent reduction in unemployment and related costs) to match the initial cost of investment. Breaking even and creating social benefits is a perfectly good aim.

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Re: Welcome to our country

> As an electorate we voted for this and not just this coalition.

We did not.

Nobody voted for this coalition. Some people voted Tory. Some people voted Labour. 34 people and a hamster voted LibDem. Nobody voted for a coalition. This one has no mandate and is illegitimate in every practical sense.

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Re: Welcome to our country

@ Rich 11

You are not the only one to think like this but the idea cannot work. It cant work because the whole point of public spending is to spend the maximum, grow your kingdom and yet reduce responsibility.

"Complete rubbish. Government can invest to create jobs. It can subsidise projects to attract further investment."

Where does the gov get the money to invest? The gov has no money. The only people who have money earn it (work through private business) and the gov are elected on the basis of taxation (removing money by force) and spending. This concept is accepted for important social needs which vary by country but typically include health, transport, energy, etc. So either the tax man has to take more money or they borrow money and pass the cost+interest repayments on to those who earn. For every investment the gov puts people out of work to fund what might be a good investment (investments can fail too remember).

So for example. To subsidise one sector, lets say banking, they have to take money off people who earn money (maybe not much) and give it away to their pet project. The problem with subsidies is the bad habit of addiction which often follows. Remove the subsidy and all those 'created' jobs disappear! Also when is the last time the gov gave money back?

If they recover the cost of the investments and break even then why do tax's go up but very rarely down? We get temporary freezes or VAT slightly reduced for a short time, but that is on the back of borrowing more money. Which those who earn will be taxed hard to pay back.

When you get your head around the fact that the gov has no money, and so the public sector has no money you realise that they actually have our money. But only from the portion working and in the private sector. And so for every department and offshoot. For every business surviving on subsidy and every PR stunt/cover-up of public departments. All of it is their hands in your pockets. It is so bad that the top tiny percent pay for the rest of us. The rest of the money is increasingly swallowed by the beast

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Re: Welcome to our country

@ dogged

"We did not.

Nobody voted for this coalition. Some people voted Tory. Some people voted Labour. 34 people and a hamster voted LibDem. Nobody voted for a coalition. This one has no mandate and is illegitimate in every practical sense."

You are wrong. Read the rules of the game. We voted for this due to the quantity of votes we put to each party and the parties deciding to continue with either a minority gov or a coalition of the unlikely. Make no mistake, YOU voted for this. Crying you didnt vote for it means you either didnt vote at all (stop crying) or you voted for one of the parties and this is the result. And we have voted every gov for some long time.

If we dont like the result (as a lot of people dont seem too) we cant shirk our responsibility by crying it isnt the outcome we want. And next time maybe people will be aware of what they are voting for. Or they can sit and sulk because this isnt the result they wanted.

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Re: Welcome to our country

Pointing out that nobody voted for a coalition is crying now?

Personally I'd favour the German system where coalitions are arranged and declared before the elections, so you know what you're voting for.

What we got is a peculiar bastard hybrid government that never stood for election.

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Re: Welcome to our country

@ dogged

"Pointing out that nobody voted for a coalition is crying now?"

Actually claiming this gov is not what you voted for is crying. You did vote for it because your vote gave your choice of party whatever minority share of power they hold (if any). Once elected their share you are a nobody again with no power until the next election. They choose what to do with their share and they formed a coalition.

If you prefer the german system then try a novel idea of going to somewhere with that system, e.g. germany. If you live here then it is the political system here. You cant claim you dont like the result of a game of chess because you prefer playing draughts.

You vote for parties not the gov. The gov is made of the share of power of the parties. And that is why you voted for this gov unless you didnt vote to which you have little to say.

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Re: Welcome to our country

<quote>What we got is a peculiar bastard hybrid government that never stood for election.</quote>

Governments don't stand for election. In the UK, a particular person stands for the seat of MP of a constituency, and the party with the most seats is asked to form a government. With the voting system we have, this is the only way a government can be formed.

It's exactly the same as the people who whinge about how they "didn't vote for that cockwomble Cameron to be Prime Minister". These people have, at least, the benefit of being entirely correct in their assertions - just not for the reasons they suspect!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Welcome to our country

"cockwomble"

I love that word - cockwomble, cockwomble, that stupid cockwomble.

Perfect for so many conversations. I must remember to use it in reference to my senior management, all of whom are total cockwombles.

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Re: Welcome to our country

>Where does the gov get the money to invest? The gov has no money. The only people who have money earn it (work through private business)

And where do these people get this money from? From a society able to support them, educate them, protect them, provide them with a financial system.

When you get your head around the fact that no-one would have any money, if it weren't for government - then, my son, you will have grown up.

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No government in the UK has stood for election

The government is appointed, by the leader of the the party that can control a majority in the house of commons.

The members of the government don't have to come from the same party or even be MP's or Lords.

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Re: Welcome to our country

I didn't vote for this! Mainly because I don't vote.

I don't vote for someone to represent me when they actually are controlled by party whips. I don't vote for parties who claim to stand for what the people believe in but actually put forth policies strongly influenced by their donors. I don't vote in an election where more than 60% of those who actually vote don't vote for the party which claims a landslide victory and a mandate from the people to implement policies which most people didn't vote for. I don't vote in a country which has an un-elected upper chamber with bishops sitting. I don't vote in an election in a country that claims to be a democracy but has an un-elected head of state who can veto any law passed by the houses of parliament.

In short - you can't blame me.

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Re: Welcome to our country

@ strum

"And where do these people get this money from? From a society able to support them, educate them, protect them, provide them with a financial system.

When you get your head around the fact that no-one would have any money, if it weren't for government - then, my son, you will have grown up."

You may need to read up on the history of tax. I think you will find that people did it. Business provided for what it needed or fell to a competitor. Tax was for fighting wars. The reason your beloved gov do it now is because they claimed they could do it better and would steal from the rich to give to the poor.

If you think the reason people earn is because of the gov then you have a long way to go my son before you grow up :)

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Daily Mail?

The consultation wasn't that quietly done.. The Open Data User Group and other bodies reached out for responses as this consultation is important for opening up the VAT register to help small businesses get better access to lending, create 'trusted' contractor services and so on.

No personal data is going to be shared. If people have concerns, then they should engage with the Open Data User Group, Taxpayers Alliance or other bodies to ensure that the correct due diligence is done.

While the risks around care.data and other programmes are clear, I do feel that some of the Reg articles related to the Open data and public data subjects are a little 'Daily Mail'. Please engage with the Open Data User Group for a balances view.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Daily Mail?

@ open_paul,

Who are the "Open Data User Group"?

I've never heard of them.

Who are its members?

Who selects/appoints its members?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Open Data User Group

@open_paul,

so this Open Data User Group "reached out" did it? to who?

Why is it that nobody has heard of it (except you) ?

Googling finds http://data.gov.uk/odug

Are you one of the members of this "group", since there seems to be someone called "Paul Malyon" on there? Why do you belittle readers of this site when your group has clearly failed in "reaching out" to the general public?

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Re: Daily Mail?

Fuck off!

I know, not very clever but it is our personal data NOT yours.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Open Data User Group

Googling finds http://data.gov.uk/odug

Thank you Anonymous Cow heard,

I prefered this link though http://data.gov.uk/sites/default/files/ODUG%20declarations_10.odt

Where the members have declared their 'interests'. From what I can see all the members have an interest in Government data being made available... I can't see a single one who doesn't have such an interest... not one who might ask "why" or "what's the risk" from a perspective of protecting Joe Bloggs.

I can't find any information on how the members of this organisation were selected/appointed, or by whom.

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Re: Daily Mail?

@open_paul - so they reached out by putting a letter in a locked filing cabinet in a disused toilet with a sign on saying beware of the leopard?

go stick your 'balances' view - a bit early for trebles all round surely!

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Re: Daily Mail?

Btw, that open_paul lad joined up today and only made one post so far(the one above). So likely someone involved in the project or a shill. Or both.

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Re: Daily Mail? @open_paul

Yet not one person with any interest in personal privacy on that group.

Why not ask the IAPP to join, they have excellent people who will look at this from a personal privacy perspective.

It probably won't go down well with the database salesmen or the people flogging financial data but as a member of the public the last people I want deciding on "open data" are a bunch of self interested people looking to make a quick buck from it.

Unless you are going to appoint people with an interest and understanding of the fundamental of personal privacy the group you are fronting is nothing more than a front for the industries looking to profit from our data. If you aren't going to do that then pop yourself down the vets for a one way trip on ketamine airways and do us all a favour.

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Re: Daily Mail?

@pepper -

I wonder if he's made any edits on Wikipedia?

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Data Sharing is not Open Data

@open_paul

The similarly-named, but independent, Open Data Institute makes the point:

One of the disturbing trends that we’ve noticed over the past year is the government justifying data sharing as if it is part of satisfying wider open data policy.

Data sharing is not open data.

Maybe you should have "reached out" to them. Or to the also similarly-named, also independent, Open Rights Group.

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Re: Daily Mail?

@ Evan Essence

Not sure, did a quick search for his Open Data User Group, but it doesnt really exist on wikipedia(the link to it does...). I get a feeling its a recent rebranding of something else.

http://data.gov.uk/odug

https://www.gov.uk/government/groups/129

http://www.linkedin.com/groups/Open-Data-User-Group-4367612

This whole Open Data User Group really just looks like a front for companies to siphon off private data, it appears to be under control of companies and doesnt really have any 'user' interest groups at hand, the british equivalent of the EFF/Bit for Freedom etc.

Dodgy all around really, if I wouldnt know better I would scream scam from the top of my lungs.

EDIT: There is a certain irony in his request for El Reg to "Please engage with the Open Data User Group for a balances view". Looks like his group himself never attempted any such thing!

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FAIL

The dpartment that took £10m off Bernie Eccleston so he avoided paying £2 *billion*

Would I trust such a department?

Let me think...

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Re: The dpartment that took £10m off Bernie Eccleston so he avoided paying £2 *billion*

The same department that sold all its estate to an offshore facilities leasing company with minimal UK tax liability? Surely not!

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Anonymous Coward

Re: The dpartment that took £10m off Bernie Eccleston so he avoided paying £2 *billion*

Bernie had donated a million to the Labour Party in 1997 who were the government at the time of the deal, why would HMRC go after a friend of their bosses?

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WTF?

In the land of the free ...

... we are all slaves?

Astute!

(blockquote isn't working)

Dear HMRC,

I provide you data so you can check I am paying the correct amount of tax. It is my data, not yours.

I do not provide it for sale, or any other purpose. The first time you hawk it, release it to a wider audience, share it, or leak it - pick any euphamism you choose, it will be the last time I supply you with accurate data. I understand that will make your job harder, but that will be your own doing.

(end of blockquote not working)

I expect HMRC or other Whitehall agencies do not own guvmint data at all and are merely stewards of the information needed by agencies to do guvmint bidding?

In any case the data are not theirs to do with what they want but only to use it for purpose required under law?

If so, any attempt to dispose, sell, analyse our data is illegal (unless guvmint says all data are Whitehall's as Whitehall has no power to declare that?)

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A lot of bollocks has been said about this issue.

It's largely been driven by the fact that there is no existing legal framework for HMRC to release data to other government departments, with very few exceptions. For example, government health departments would like anonymised tax data to do health studies, but they can't.

In respect of payment, HMRC are only considering charging for what it might cost them to produce the data and perform the extensive checks on anonymisation, need etc. That doesn't necessarily come cheap, and they want to cover any additional costs landed on them.

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Holmes

Lets have a test run

@Mike Bell

HMRC could publish (to the public) the tax records of senior HMRC and Cabinet Office staff and politicians. They should use the same anonymyzing algorithm that they are propose for our data. If they think that there is nothing to worry about why not give us a real world demo?

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Anonymous Coward

It's largely been driven by the fact that there is no existing legal framework for HMRC to release data

There's a reason for that, it's because the data the HMRC has doesn't belong to them. It's the personal data of people who are compelled by law to provide that data to HMRC. HMRC only have it for processing to ensure that each of those individuals pays the correct amount of tax... and they're not very good at that.

I can't understand how anyone can support data which only exists because people are compelled by law (under threat of punishment by the state) to provide data to government, being used by commercial companies.

There should be a default question built into each of these ideas, "Would the people whos data was gathered under threat of punishment by the state, personally provide their data to the commercial companies who are now looking to purchase/use it?"

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