Home arrow News arrow 14/07/2006 Information Commissioner - Share data properly
14/07/2006 Information Commissioner - Share data properly PDF Print E-mail
Launching his annual report today the Information Commissioner, Richard Thomas, sends a clear message that data protection provides a valuable framework for sharing personal information across the public sector, and should not be seen as a barrier.

Responding to the government’s renewed focus on projects to share personal information among public sector bodies, the Information Commissioner acknowledges the clear benefits these initiatives could bring - safeguarding the public, improving services and reducing costs. However, he stresses that government and other public bodies must retain public trust and confidence, and will only achieve this if they share personal information in a secure, lawful and responsible way.

Richard Thomas said: “I do not want data protection to be wrongly blamed for preventing sensible information sharing, for example to detect crime, protect children at risk or prevent fraud. Electronic government initiatives which improve public services, such as online car tax renewal, show that information can be shared in entirely acceptable ways.

“But as more and more information is passed from one database to another it is important to get the basics right. Trust and confidence will be lost if information is inaccurate or out of date, if there are mistakes of identification, if information is not kept securely or if reasonable expectations of privacy are not met. There must be clarity of purpose – not just sharing because technology allows it. And people must be told how their information is being shared and given choices wherever possible.

Data protection should be seen as part of the solution, not as the problem. The eight core principles that underpin the Data Protection Act provide a widely-supported framework to make sure personal information is collected in ways which are necessary, justified and proportionate. Getting it right - at both design and operational levels - is vital to ensure the public trust and confidence which is needed to deliver the benefits of information sharing.

Richard Thomas added: “My office intends to contribute constructively to government thinking and feed in data protection expertise. There is too much uncertainty and misunderstanding within the public sector about what can or cannot be done. We can provide help and authoritative answers. It is our job to promote good practice and we will be exploring ways - for example through information-sharing guidelines and promoting statutory codes of practice - to bring greater certainty and clarity to help government achieve the right balance.”

The Information Commissioner continued: “Research from my office shows that the public ranks protecting personal information as a top social concern. As major government initiatives roll forward, I am determined to champion respect for personal information with a common sense approach. In this way we can ensure that, while increased information sharing can serve worthwhile goals, it does not result in unacceptable intrusion or damage to individuals.”

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