Government data sharing may harm public trust

Government data sharing may harm public trust

Summary: Increased data sharing between government departments and services could undermine citizens' confidence in public bodies, Lord Erroll has said

TOPICS: Networking

The government has been warned that increased data sharing between departments and services could result in a decline in citizens' confidence in public bodies.

The current push by the government towards increased data sharing could backfire, with negative effects for public confidence, according to Merlin, Earl of Erroll, a member of the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee. Speaking on Thursday at a Eurim event addressing social-inclusion issues, he said that schemes such as the National Identity Register — on which the government plans to hold the personal data of every UK citizen — could lead to an over-intrusive state when combined with data sharing between government departments and services.

"With increased sharing of data, there is a greater risk of failure of public services due to the greater complexity of systems, but also people may become frightened of being caught," said Lord Erroll. "If you don't tell the DVLA of a change of address, after a month you're liable to a fine of £1,000, and it will be the same under the National Identity Register. I see a problem of linking up government departments and services, like law enforcement, that are seen as enforcers and those seen as helpers, like [social services]."

If someone had, for example, notified their doctor of a change of address but forgotten to notify the DVLA, and this resulted in a penalty, that could undermine public confidence in both bodies, according to Lord Erroll. He also said he was concerned about the possible data-mining implications of the scheme and added that "the amount of fraud they will detect is probably less than they think".

However, Sir David Varney, the prime minister's adviser on public-service transformation, told that the nature of the data to be shared between government departments was still under discussion.

"There has to be a lot of careful thought about what data needs to be shared," said Varney. "If names, addresses, and national insurance numbers were shared, people would benefit from a more personalised service." Varney added that making policy out of operational activities makes that policy more credible to "customers", as it is co-produced.

Naomi Eisenstadt, director of the Cabinet Office's Social Exclusion Task Force, said that a large amount of informal data sharing already existed. "There can be an incredible level of intrusion. There is massive information sharing on an informal basis, as professionals chat to each other," she said.

Topic: Networking

Tom Espiner

About Tom Espiner

Tom is a technology reporter for He covers the security beat, writing about everything from hacking and cybercrime to threats and mitigation. He also focuses on open source and emerging technologies, all the while trying to cut through greenwash.

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