25 November 2008
The most important announcement yesterday for how Britain is governed took place almost silently. The release of the government’s response  to the Thomas/ Walport ‘Data Sharing Review’  under cover of the Pre-Budget Report amounts to a scrapping vital constitutional protections. But you wouldn’t know that from the official press release , which fails to mention the key point, instead drawing attention to notional increases in the Information Commissioner’s powers that are calculated to have no effect on the behaviour of government itself.
The key recommendation is 8(a) , which proposes that whenever a department desires to use existing information for new purposes, ministers should have the power to make regulations to let it do so. They could set aside confidentiality and data-protection in the existing law or allow information that has been collected by government for one purpose to be used for a completely different one – without any new legislation or even a debate in parliament.
This is in line with the database state ambitions set out in previous official documents that give the MoJ a remit to “overcome current barriers to information sharing within the public sector . Such officially identified “barriers” include the human rights of citizens and the basic rules of English law .
Phil Booth, NO2ID  National Coordinator said:
The government intends to relieve itself of proper parliamentary scrutiny whenever it increases its own powers to handle personal information. This plan would gives carte blanche to a snooping-obsessed state to dispense with the privacy of citizens, whenever convenient.
Adopting this single recommendation wipes out any good that the Information Commissioner might ever do.
Notes for editors:
1) The government’s response, published by the Ministry of Justice on 24/11/08: http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/response-data-sharing-review.pdf
2) The Data Sharing Review, written by Richard Thomas – the current Information Commissioner, but working “in an independent capacity” -
and Dr Mark Walport, Director of the Wellcome Trust – the UK’s largest medical research foundation:
NO2ID drew attention to the problematic nature of the Thomas/Walport review on its release in July 2008:
3) The press statement http://www.justice.gov.uk/news/newsrelease241108a.htm
from the MoJ makes no mention whatsoever of the new procedures that will minimise Parliamentary scrutiny of future data-sharing powers.
4) ‘…Primary legislation should provide the Secretary of State, in precisely defined circumstances, with a power by Order, subject to the
affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses, to remove or modify any legal barrier to data sharing by: repealing or amending other primary legislation; changing any other rule of law (for example, the application of the common law of confidentiality to defined circumstances); or creating a new power to share information where that power is currently absent.’
5) The ‘Transformational Government’ agenda, as articulated in the ‘Service Transformation Agreement’ –
http://www.hm-treasury.gov.uk/media/B/9/pbr_csr07_service.pdf – published in October 2007 clearly states (paragraph A.5, p 19) that
the new Ministry of Justice is to “deliver a package of measures over the next 3-5 years to overcome current barriers to information sharing
within the public sector.”
6) See, HM Government ‘Information Sharing vision statement’ (13 September 2006)
7) NO2ID is the UK-wide non-partisan campaign against ID cards and the database state. See http://www.no2id.net/dbstate.php for a list of
‘database state’ initiatives that NO2ID is actively opposing.