back to article UK.gov wants public sector to rip up data protection law

The British government is in the preliminary stages of designing a controversial system which will share citizens' sensitive personal information across government departments without their consent. Leaked documents show civil servants are planning to mimic the data-sharing systems used by firms like Amazon or Tesco. This …

Anonymous Coward

Re: New Government Slogan

"Surely they can't be that demented?"

Well Miliband, and his proposals, seems to be out of favour in the Labour Party. So it is not unlikely that there will be plotting to replace him with a "tried and tested" solution that never lost an election. Feels like yet another 1930s deja vu. A charismatic opportunistic politician with messianic ideas was erroneously given enough power to activate a legal dictatorship.

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Big Brother

The road to hell[1]

and all that.

It's never *this* government you need to worry. After all they're cute and nice, and love their cats.

It's the government as yet unseen - the next one.

[1] is paved with good intentions, and things which seemed "a good idea at the time".

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WTF?

Re: The road to hell[1]

torys being cute and nice, and loving their cats!

get out of here

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Anonymous Coward

Very little choice left....

The stark reality, as anyone who works in local government will tell you, is that unless data sharing between public services becomes a reality very soon, the effects of the cuts will start to be felt in loss of services, particularly those services where there is a real need for data sharing; vulnerable adults, the elderly, children at risk....

Data sharing makes it possible to find information immediately that you otherwise have to wait weeks for (even if the other authority/body agrees your request is valid) whilst you wait for the only person who can fulfill your request (because cuts have already removed any chance that they might have a backup or be part of a team) to work through their backlog and get back to you. In the mean time your assessment of whether that person requires care, or monetary support, or is at risk, will simply sit on hold.

As long as the UK public continue to vote for whichever party will cut their tax bill the most the situation amongst the vulnerable in our society will continue to worsen. Unfortunately as offering to increase taxes to ensure that the UK has adequate levels of care for its population is now seen as electoral suicide it will take a large scale failure of care, probably leading to a substantial number of deaths, before the situation changes.

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Re: Very little choice left....

Problem solved re children and vulnerable/old adults and those chronically sick.

Information sharing via HSCIC.

You didn't think customs and revenue joined for efficiency did you?

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Re: "You didn't think customs and revenue joined for efficiency did you?"

No I didn't. They joined to give the Inland Revenue the dreaded HM prefix. Crown agents do not need warrants to search or just about anything else they chose to do, they also cannot be sued. The plods often took HM C&E officers on raids to provide the warrant-less search tactic..... But you knew that anyway.

This latest idea though is starting to make it all look very very scary for the average citizen. Time to stock up on the Vaseline people.

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Re: Very little choice left....

"You didn't think customs and revenue joined for efficiency did you?"

They did in New Zealand.

Overall result:

1: Lower taxation burden on the population (the govt collected LESS tax revenue)

2: MUCH lower collection costs (The govt spent far less collecting that revenue than the reduction in income)

3: 2/3 of the staff of the combined tax and customs department were given P45s over a 12 year period - resulting in even lower costs (actually, most of them retired and there was a freeze on recruiting)

It CAN be done properly, but there's no will to actually reduce costs in the UK civil service. Every change is an excuse to hire more people.

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Facepalm

Deja vu ?

every so often, you get stories about "joined up government". They have a brief vogue, and then die down again.

My suspicion is every so often, a new, wet-behind the ears minister dreams up a wheeze, which sounds brilliant.

On paper.

They then take this idea to the civil service (who have seen it all before) who point out that maybe it might not be such a spiffing idea after all, since it would have to apply to the minister, their spouse, their children, and could make life a tad tricky, but that there's a desperate need for international standards around the internet of things, and that the minister would be better serving the government by devoting the next 18 months to that line of work.

Rinse and repeat.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Deja vu ?

Sorry, that's no longer true. It's the Civil Service who is now behind this game as they see what power they can wield. Irrespective of whichever flavour of our virtually one party state happens to pretend to hold the reins at the time...

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Favourite Bogeyman

Data Protection is everyone organisation's favourite bogeyman where a "health and safety" excuse can't be made up.

I've had some experience of the Data Protection Act myself and I have to say that I have never come across a genuine "data protection" excuse that's actually hamstringing someone from doing something that you'd actually want them to be able to do with your information. One suspects that this experience isn't atypical and that the proportion of reported problems that are *actually* down to data protection issues is a miniscule fraction of the total.

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Local sharing only

From the comments above, it seems that there is a case for sharing information about social care, which is handled at county council or lower level. But only if shared at county or lower level.

I recently got a new driving licence to celebrate the big 7-0. With my permission, they used my passport photo, thus saving me the bother of a trip to a photo booth. But I don't want them snooping without my permission at my electricity bills, internet usage, or whatever. Other people, subject to warrant, I don't mind. So the principle for central governement should be permission (explicit, informed, etc.) or warrant.

For health matters, social trends, etc: aggregated data, yes; "anonymised" data no. And not to any civil servant unless they show that they know the difference between these. Not many PPE graduates, then.

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Gimp

Obligatory "Brazil" reference

"Buttle, not Tuttle"

Know what I mean?

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Holmes

“People tend to assume worry that Government can share data between departments to complete simple tasks, and are surprised relieved to learn that it cannot,"

There. Fixed it for ya.

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Surprisingly honest document

According to the article, the cabinet document says "Removing barriers to sharing or linking datasets can help Government to design and implement evidence-based policy – for example to tackle social mobility, assist economic growth and prevent crime".

Those seem like reasonable goals. However, the document then moves on to talk about the real goals... "checking if bus pass claimants are still alive, tackling illegal immigration or sharing information about teenagers involved in gangs". None of those are reasons to ask everyone in the country to sacrifice the right to privacy. None of those are at levels where they are causing the country serious problems, and there appears to be no evidence that they would be reduced by data sharing.

So much for "evidence-based policy".

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surprisingly honest document

Teenagers in gangs, again in Scotland, already happens through the Concern form in the interim Vulnerable Persons Database.

We deal with a teenager in a gang, we submit a Concern form about that child which goes to the relevant government agency to look at, perhaps socialwork if they're still a minor, etc, etc.

That side of it is already out there.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surprisingly honest document

"tackle social mobility" - Keep the plebs in their place.

"assist economic growth" - Continue moving wealth from the poor to the rich.

"prevent crime" - The fight against the paedo-terrorists and benefit fraudsters, but not the big embezzlers in the City and Govt. contractors, so business as usual, just more so.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Surprisingly honest document

"Concern form"

Is it correct that a Concern entry can be made if anyone's legal behaviour is considered suspicious? Effectively hearsay smearing someone who is then subject to legal constraints for what they "might" do later? Minority Report anyone?

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Oh dear !

I must be a prophet, I wrote this on another forum a few weeks ago :

"Something that might justifiably give rise to fears in the UK is that the Customs and Excise - who are responsible for the collection of sales tax - and the Inland Revenue - who collect income taxes - were fairly recently merged into one department. Fear and trembling ! After all, one man's expenditure is another man's income, and if you can measure the bit in the middle, then anything that is missing is tax evasion, isn't it ? Except their legacy systems are incompatible, the Inland Revenue's systems are, by their own admission, about 10 year out of date and they operate the biggest XP base in the UK.

I am not for a moment suggesting that the individual Civil Servant is either lazy or incompetent, the ones I know are neither, but they are totally tied down by their departmental systems. I wouldn't quite go so far as to say the frequent reorganisation of government departments is the single biggest contributor to civil liberties in the UK, but it certainly isn't the smallest !"

If this goes through, civil liberties go into a sudden and irreversible decline. The only saving grace, as pointed out by others above, is the governments record on large IT projects.

Chris Cosgrove

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Anonymous Coward

Vote for who!?

I'm very surprised to hear some people telling others to vote for a different party, and expecting some kind of change to happen.

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Re: Vote for who!?

people have fought and died for your right to vote

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Vote for who!?

I know, and that is what upsets me.

Tell the people in power that. They're the ones fooling you, not me or anyone else.

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Facepalm

The government are already sharing data of employees with other departments. How would you find out how many Army Reservists are civil servants? Ask the reservists who they work for? No! Ask every government department to supply the National Insurance number of every member of staff to the MOD so the MOD can cross check with its records and thereby deduce how many civil servants are also reservists. No doubt the exercise will be repeated when they want to know many are in the local authority / private / non-profit / education / university sectors.

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Anonymous Coward

Trust governments to do things the wrong way. Realistically IT systems could query other departments databases via a unique identifier like birth certificate number or passport number for basic relevant stats of the person. Then a department can retrieve a summary of active 'records', last case date and last interaction dates and last case closed that are appropriate for the department requesting them and the person filing the information can then choose to copy in another department if it is deemed necessary. The department receiving the information can theoretically act on it a lot quicker (Child Protection Services sees that a physical assault happened yesterday so the case officer might need to liaise with the cops to investigate before meeting the client or submit an immediate court order for the removal of the children).

So CPS will need to see active arrests/incidents and last arrested date from the cops, tax returns from the tax office, government payments and any other government support. But the cops on the other hand just need to see outstanding warrants, active probation records and child protection data depending on the issue (i.e. you don't really need to see CPS data for a parking ticket but physical assault ...). The tax office will just need to know of the person is receiving government support and any court ordered payments (i.e. CPS, paying off fines, etc).

If the cops are charging someone with drink driving and query related departments it would then see that child protection services have no active cases against the person but the last case closed was two weeks ago (no details) so the cops can then choose to forward on the report to CPS. When it gets to CPS the last case was about leaving a child unattended and there was a baby sitter looking after the kids then CPS can give the person a quick call and make sure nothing is going on. But if a pattern emerges that the cops are filing reports on the person regarding drunk driving, domestic disturbance, kids unattended in a short period then the CPS could decide to reactive the old case (or create a new one) and sort it out.

If the tax office is processing a persons tax return and notices that they are actively receiving government benefits but have filed that they have earned $100,000 then they can forward on the tax return information to the other agency. Or better yet the tax office is submitting the tax return and notice that the person is has an active child payment order then submit a copy of the tax return to the CPS so they can review/file it.

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Everyone legally in this country has a unique identifier: a national insurance number.

Your NI number will identify you to any gov (local or national) IT system. If you have a passport or photo drivers licence it will photo-ID you.

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Anonymous Coward

"Everyone legally in this country has a unique identifier: a national insurance number."

If they have applied for one in order to be employed here - or possibly to claim a pension? There must be many people who do not require an National Insurance number to live legally in the UK.

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"Everyone legally in this country has a unique identifier: a national insurance number"

Unfortunately national insurance numbers are not unique!

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daten, bitte

Why do they want/need the data?

NOT why don't you want them to share it.

Is this about convenience? Is it about crime? Or is because of someone like me; a geek obsessed with connecting everything together and creating transparency, blinkered to everything but this vision of purity and logic, unwittingly the herald of the next Nazi regime?

To me this isn't about sharing data. It's about watching those sodding watchers and only providing access where it is relevant and legal. That's the difficult bit. How do you make a beautiful system and ensure the people using it have morals and integrity? I suppose you only give a small number of people direct access to this data, let's call them Intelligence Moderators. They operate under strict rules/guidance and all data shared is logged. Not the actual data shared but the type of request, by whom, when etc. Then we publish those logs publicly. How do we trust these people not to share too much? I don't know. It's imperfect. Maybe they have to meet really strict screening requirements for the job and we pay them very generously for what they do to avoid corruption. I can start tomorrow. Now... The real issue after all this political bs... how do we stop this being hacked and used for evil?

Let's not bother shall we...

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Green vote

Sorry, can't vote for greens while they are against all forms of nuclear power. I think putting less CO2 in the atmosphere is a sensible move, but I don't like sitting in the dark.

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Re: Green vote

They're not against nuclear power, just people.

A world with less people is a greener world, a world with no people is the greenest world. I have yet to decide whether they're dedicated, or dumb.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Green vote

They're not against nuclear power, just people.

What? We have nuclear people? Where?

:)

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Anonymous Coward

Who to vote for?

I'm stuck who to vote for. tors and Labour have no interest in my freedom as far as I can see. I'm currently looking at the Lib Dems, UKIP, the communist Party and the naked guy who wants all day parties.

So far the naked guy is edging it. :(

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Voter preference advice

Vote UKIP - the SANE evil party.

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Insane and wrong

Is this just to cover stupid politicians that leave data on trains and park benches?

Sometimes I think security is going backwards not forwards. You have swipeable visa not needing any code and now this idea. You should have a choice on how your information is governed. It's not up to the government to share private info

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