The government had mentioned in the press that they were backing off clause 152 on information sharing. This has eventually been confirmed in Parliament. The government plans are to withdraw clause 152 entirely at the moment and to keep planning how to reintroduce some of its provisions in the future.
Michael Wills (Minister of State, Ministry of Justice) - House of Commons debates 2009-03-17:
Sharing information across Government Departments in a safe and proportionate way, with proper safeguards in place, is vital to the delivery of modern public services. That has always been Government policy.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, and I hope it will give his constituents some reassurance to know that we have withdrawn the clauses that they are worried about.
In the case cited by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it became clear that the powers were drawn too widely. We have therefore withdrawn them, will redraft them, and propose to introduce data-sharing powers in future, precisely because we believe that they can be in the public interest if they are implemented safely and if they are proportionate.
The fundamental point remains that the creation of databases can be in the public interest. It is never easy to get these things right, but I think that if the hon. and learned Gentleman looks at the record of the private sector, just as much as that of the public sector, it will be clear to him that we all have a great deal to learn. We are learning those lessons, however. We have put measures in place constantly to improve data security. I entirely accept that we have some way to go, but the fact that there have been deeply regrettable breaches of data security is no reason for us to turn our back on all the public good that can be done by the creation of databases in the public interest, subject to the principles of data protection.
As some provisions in clause 152 were among the most intrusive proposals pushed by this government and would have subverted the Data Protection Act, this is an overall positive and welcomed move. It will however means that the better measures such as strengthening the powers of the Information Commissioner are also pushed back.
UPDATE: Andrew Dismore, the chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, said:
We welcome the Government's recent decision to remove the proposals to use secondary legislation to allow the 'bulk' transfer of large amounts of personal data - including DNA data, medical records, or children's information - between departments, agencies and councils and the private sector. But while there is some recognition that new protections, new powers, are needed when personal information is shared in the public sector, the fact that the private sector now holds vast amounts of personal information on people has not been recognised. As the line between private and public service providers becomes increasingly blurred it is important that the Information Commissioner's powers should be extended to cover the private sector.
First published on 2009-03-18; last updated on 2009-03-20.