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: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.
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.
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!