The Great Database Robbery

[Immediate]

Government publishes plans to sell everyone’s medical and school records (among other things)

A Cabinet Office paper [1] released at the same time as George Osborne’s Pre Budget Report details sweeping plans to exploit the mountains of data held by government departments. They include ideas for selling personal information from citizens’ medical, educational and benefit records in bulk to commercial interests.

Such plans do not fit well with coalition promises to protect privacy, give people control of their personal data and ‘scale back Labour’s database state.’ [2]. On the contrary, they bear a very close resemblance to the Blair administration’s ideas for ‘Transformational Government: enabled by technology’ [3] and the broad data-sharing that New Labour attempted to implement but was forced to drop in 2009 [4].

Campaigners such as NO2ID have previously noted how official enthusiasm for data-collection and -sharing have carried on regardless of political change.[5]

The Cabinet Office document claims:

Online access to one’s own personal data enhances personal control and participation in public services. It also fuels innovation and growth in the supporting technology and data markets.

Guy Herbert, General Secretary of NO2ID said:

The government is deliberately confusing ‘access’ and ‘control’. It wants to control your data – and give it out to others as it sees fit – but will kindly let you visit it occasionally. That is the wrong way round. We should control access to our personal information; the government should get to use it only when genuinely necessary.

Dear Whitehall, Our personal information is not yours to sell.

He added:

Ministers are muddled about ‘anonymisation’. Anonymised data is like sterilised milk – it stops being that way the moment you open it up.

– ENDS

Notes for editors:

1) Further details on Open Data measures in the Autumn Statement 2011 http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/sites/default/files/resources/Further_detail_on_Open_Data_measures_in_the_Autumn_Statement_2011.pdf

2) Conservative Party Manifesto 2010

3) See documents at: http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.cabinetoffice.gov.uk/cio/transformational_government/strategy.aspx

4) e.g. ‘Government abandons data-sharing scheme – The Government has been forced into an embarrassing U-turn over plans to share vast amounts of private data about individuals.’ – Daily Telegraph 9 March 2009
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/law-and-order/4954058/Government-abandons-data-sharing-scheme.html

5) 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, and http://www.no2id.net/datasharing for how it all fits together. NO2ID helped launch the NHS Confidentiality campaign http://www.nhsconfidentiality.org in 2006, which won the right for patients to opt out of the Summary Care Record.

Despite claiming skepticism of the Connecting for Health scheme, the new government carried on sucking up medical records into central control with barely a pause. See:
http://press.mu.no2id.net/2011-09/nhs-database-has-gone-but-we-want-medical-confidentiality-back/

The coalition has even promoted some of the key advocates for the database state within Whitehall. Ian Watmore, Blair’s ‘e-envoy’ and apostle of Transformational Government, is now Permanent Secretary to the Cabinet Office. Tim Kelsey, the UK government’s senior adviser on Transparency and Open Data, was a founder of Dr Foster Intelligence, and in March 2010 fronted the report ‘Online or In-line’ http://www.2020publicservicestrust.org/publications/item.asp?d=2128
which advocated compulsory sharing of personal data as in the public interest.

For further information, or for immediate or future interview, please contact:

Guy Herbert (General Secretary, general.secretary@no2id.net) (London) on 07956 544 308
James Baker (Campaigns Manager, campaigns@no2id.net) (Leeds) on 07817 605 162