Lord criticises proposed data-sharing law

A proposed law that would overturn one of the principles of the Data Protection Act has been criticised by a prominent peer.Merlin, Earl of Erroll, told ZDNet UK that changes to data law brought in by the Coroners and Justice Bill would mean people could "suffer".

A proposed law that would overturn one of the principles of the Data Protection Act has been criticised by a prominent peer.

Merlin, Earl of Erroll, told ZDNet UK that changes to data law brought in by the Coroners and Justice Bill would mean people could "suffer".

The Coroners and Justice Bill will enable government departments to share information, and use data for purposes that were not intended when the information was collected. For example, Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs (HMRC) could share tax information with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the government has said in an explanatory note to the Bill.

Lord Erroll said that he would oppose the Bill on the grounds that "enforcers" such as HMRC should be separate from "helpers" such as the DWP.

"The danger is that some people may suffer, or even die, as a result of not giving information to helpers, because they know that the enforcers will get hold of the data," said Errol. "We need some serious protection in the law to prevent this. I will be opposing the bill."

The bill is worded to give government ministers the power to allow information sharing between the government and any other entity. Privacy law expert Rosemary Jay told Out-Law.com last month that the law was phrased in a way that the government could share more citizen data with the private sector, including financial services organisations.

"It would allow for information to be shared with banks or other financial institutions," said Jay. "There is no restriction on purpose of the sharing so for example it would enable the Minister to make an order empowering the tax authorities to disclose the earnings of individuals to credit reference agencies," said Jay.

Two weeks ago a House of Lords committee called for "pervasive" government snooping to cease.