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Government to unveil new personal data sharing plans

Out-Law News | 06 Aug 2014 | 12:23 pm | 2 min. read

Plans to allow personal data stored on different public sector databases to be aggregated could be unveiled by the UK government later this year.

Under the plans being considered, "all bodies providing public services" could be given greater freedom to share the personal data they store to "improve outcomes in health, education or employment", according to a report by the Daily Telegraph. According to the paper, individuals might not be asked whether they consent to the sharing of their data.

The white paper to be published will also contain plans to enable greater sharing of anonymised data by public sector bodies, the Telegraph reported.

Data protection law specialist Matthew Godfrey-Faussett of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said that the government should seek the support of the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) if it wants to win public trust for the plans.

"It makes absolute sense for the government to take steps to join up the data stored in the public sector," Godfrey-Faussett said. "Pulling different datasets together will help central and local government bodies, as well as the wider public sector, take advantage of the latest big data analytics tools and so ensure that public bodies operate in ways that are more informed and efficient."

"Where the plans involve the use of personal data the scheme will need to comply with UK and other relevant data protection laws," he said. "However, of equal importance to the likely success of any initiative will be the need to convince the public of the merits of the sharing of personal data and the strength of the safeguards put in place to protect privacy. The NHS has already encountered real problems with the roll out of the care.data scheme due to privacy concerns and to avoid a repeat performance, the government should engage more actively with the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) to gather its views and, where possible, secure a regulatory green light in relation to its proposals."

"Whilst the government appears to have engaged in advance with a number of privacy pressure groups – a move that could certainly help it pre-empt issues that are likely to be raised in relation to its detailed proposals – early engagement with the ICO would seem to be an even more worthwhile tactic, as it is the regulator who is likely to hold the greatest sway in relation to general public opinion and in countering the negative coverage that the scheme will inevitably receive from much of the media," Godfrey-Faussett said.

In February this year, NHS England announced that the care.data scheme would be postponed by six months after admitting that it had failed to explain sufficiently how patients' data would be used and how individuals could exercise their right to opt out from the use of their data under the scheme.

The care.data programme envisages the use of patient medical records gathered by GPs for a range of purposes, including for improving health services and in medical research projects. The precise circumstances in which the data could be used would depend on whether the information is anonymised, pseudonymised or in identifiable form.