The U.K. Ministry of Justice has said it wants to rethink a clause in a
bill that critics have said could have undermined the rule of law.
Justice secretary Jack Straw has approached the cabinet to withdraw the
clause from the Coroners and Justice Bill, a Ministry of Justice spokesperson told ZDNet Asia's sister site ZDNet UK on Monday.
"The justice secretary has asked cabinet colleagues to withdraw the clause
from the bill and launch further consultation," said the spokesperson. "The
public and parliamentary concern in the clause as drafted was very wide.
Parliamentary and public scrutiny turned up justifiable concerns with the clause."
Clause 152 of the Coroners and Justice Bill gives a minister (or "designated
authority", according to the bill) the power to sign an order to
allow the sharing of information between any two agencies in the public and
private sector. "Subject to the following provisions of this Part, a designated
authority may by order (an 'information-sharing order') enable any person to
share information which consists of or includes personal data," clause 152 states.
The clause has caused widespread concern, both within and outside parliament.
In February, the British Computer Society said the clause could allow a
non-benevolent government to debilitate U.K. democracy, as personal data given for one purpose could be used for another.
Lord Erroll told ZDNet UK in February that the law could mean people suffer
as a result of personal information being shared freely between government
agencies that are "helpers" and those that are "enforcers". Erroll said
that public trust in both
types of institution would be eroded, leading
to people being less likely to use services provided by the "helper" agencies.
On Monday, the Ministry of Justice spokesperson denied that Straw's move was
a reversal of its position, saying instead that removing the clause was a
In February, the Ministry of Justice said that the Coroners and
Justice Bill does not relax data protection in any way. However, on Monday
the spokesperson said the reason for the "rethink and a re-consultation"
is to "try to strike a balance between the positive elements of data-sharing and ensuring that sensitive data is protected".
Privacy campaigner Phil Booth, director of No2ID, welcomed the move, but said
that the cabinet might still decide to keep the clause, despite Straw's reservations.
"What a phenomenal turnaround," said Booth. "People realized that their
information could be taken and used and abused for other purposes. But I'd be reluctant to be gung-ho--it's conceivable that the cabinet might hang Jack
Straw out to dry."