Consultation on privacy promised for new year

Following outrage at proposals that would let a wide range of government agencies access personal data, the Home Office is to take feedback from the public

The Home Office is to publish a consultation paper in the new year to help gauge how much electronic invasion of privacy the public is willing to accept. The move follows the debacle in June when a code of practice for controversial snooping laws revealed the wide extent of public bodies that would be able to access individuals' communications data.

After privacy advocates expressed outrage, the government shelved its draft code of practice that would effectively allow a broad range of government agencies, including all local authorities, the NHS, the Postal Services Commission and the Food Standards Agency, to demand the communications records of Internet and telephone users.

A second, more considered attempt, will now be made in the new year to formulate a new code of practice. The announcement was made in evidence to a public inquiry into data interception and retention laws by the All Party Parliamentary Internet Group. Giving evidence, a Home Office official said, "We are looking to publish very early in the New Year a consultation document (on the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act)."

"We will place the document in the public domain," said the official. "A show the totality of how data is accessed... so we'll say what is done and by whom." The object of the exercise, said the official, is to engage public debate in a discussion on what is data is retained and who has access to it. He admitted that the draft code of practice released in June made many presumptions about what level of intrusion the public would accept.

All departments responsible for authorities accessing communications data are being asked for help to make sure the paper properly reflects what is being one and by whom, said the official.

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