Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Ministers to be given powers putting them above the law - the buried bad news?

Would anyone be surprised if whilst we had our head fixated on the Chancellor's mini-budget the Government would slip out some other announcements in the hope that no one would notice. I believe the phrase we have come to know this as is "burying bad news". Given the circumstances of the pre-Budget report, there was lots of bad news under which to bury some more right?

It seems that the unbeliavble news that was buried yestedray can be found here. It is a statement by Jack Straw on data protection and information security. Initially it all sounds very tough. There are lots of things about the importance of securing the data they hold on us, as well as stuff about hefty fines to be imposed when there are breaches. However, it's this bit on the end that is worrying and frankly quite disturbing.
In addition, to reinforce the framework within which we can safely share data and deliver benefits for the public, we propose to:

place a statutory duty on the ICO to publish a data sharing code of practice in order to provide practical guidance on how to share personal data in accordance with the requirements of the Data Protection Act and to promote good practice in the sharing of personal data; and

confer a power upon the Secretary of State to permit or require the sharing of personal information between particular specified persons, where a robust case for doing so exists.
Did you spot that? They're planning to introduce rules for how and when information can be shared (this is being done through one of those "consultations" with the public). Then, and this is the kicker, they plan to introduce an arbitrary power given to the Secertary of State which allows him or her to simply override the code of practice and the Data Protection Act by diktat.

Here's the thing though, anyone defending this proposal will say "there must be a "robust case for doing so" so there is a safeguard". However, and let's get this straight for a moment. They want to share sensitive data. In order to do that they must present a robust case. So... who is that robust case presented to and will it be public? Unlikely because guess what, in presenting a "robust case" there is going to be protected data involved.

What this ministerial statement effectively means is that the Secretary of State will be able to override the Data Protection Act, order the sharing of data with whoever he or she chooses, upon which the grounds for it will be restricted from public scrutiny because of... errr... the Data Protection Act.

Welcome to the secret state where ministers make themselves above the law.

Note: This little power thrown on at the end is given no mention in reporting in The Times or the Guardian. Why? Nor is any mention made that Straw said the powers were to "simplify the data protection framework and remove any unnecessary obstacles to data sharing". So much for strengthening data protection in Government!

12 comments:

Jonny Mac said...

'robust'...aargh! This word is endlessly absued by this Government. Hazel Blears in particular is unable to open her mouth without saying it. It's such a useful nu-Lab formulation - it gives the impression of toughness while implying that concepts like accountability are wet liberal nonsense.

Sorry, rant over.

Anonymous said...

It would make an interesting question for PMQs

hatstand said...

Anonymous said...

It would make an interesting question for PMQs

.... Wouldn't get an answer of course.

Dave said...

Well spotted Dizzy. Where's the rope!

Ronnie Stooge said...

Yes, very well spotted Dizzy. I hope this gets picked up...

jailhouselawyer said...

You are right to highlight this. However, I have found a similar thing has happened in prisons in relation to prisoner and medical confidentiality where consent is not required.

Not a sheep said...

This Labour government truly seem to believe that they are above the law. Maybe over 11 years of being "in power" has gone to their heads, or were they always like this?

Phil Wilson said...

I'm not sure it says that the Secretary of State can require data sharing which contravenes the ICO?

Or at least, it doesn't seem to say this clearly, the implication to me is that it's about compelling departments or orgs that wouldn't normally share data using other legislation as an excuse.

dizzy said...

Thats not the way it reads to me. The word "require" is the one that leaps out for me. Additonally it suggests that it will be something that will be outside of the OCO code of practice as a result.

Don Cox said...

"were they always like this?" ______ Yes, since 1945 anyway.

Anonymous said...

Dizzy's correct in his interpretation. NO2ID pointed out this recommendation at the time the WalportThomas Report came out (also sub-rosa). It is plausible but unprovable that the whole WalportThomas exercise was designed to produce this result, since MoJ has been charged with "removing the barriers to data-sharing" since its predecessor the DCA was asked by the Cabinet Office to identify them back in 2006. Walport was there as a proponent of Big Pharma getting its hands on your NHS medical records.

Roger Thornhill said...

What else do you expect from Socialists and a rag-tag bunch of not-so-ex Marxists, Trots and Communists? They are Authoritarian. Totalitarian scumbags to a man/woman.