Government plans to link state databases - and share the data with private sector

By Graeme Burton
04 Aug 2014 View Comments
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The government is planning to reverse rules restricting its data-sharing, enabling it to share details of earnings, tax records, criminal records, benefit payments and energy use - anything - across the UK's six-million-strong public sector.

The proposals are contained in a discussion document produced in April by the Cabinet Office Data Sharing Policy Team. The plan will link up thousands of state databases currently maintained by local authorities, schools, police forces and other agencies across the public sector.

Further reading

According to the Daily Telegraph, the ultimate aim is to mimick the capabilities of companies like Google and Tesco, enabling them to apply big data analytic techniques across the various datasets in order to monitor the population more closely. The Telegraph claims that it will be used to "identify troubled families and elderly people in need of support, and cut fraud".

However, the plans will require a new legal framework in order to overturn a decades-old rule that government departments and agencies ought not share data, given the potential for authoritarianism that such powers would convey.

According to the Telegraph, the Cabinet Office document notes: "People tend to assume that government can share data between departments to complete simple tasks, and are surprised to learn that it cannot.

"Removing barriers to sharing or linking datasets can help government to design and implement evidence-based policy - for example to tackle social mobility, assist economic growth and prevent crime."

The memorandum goes on to outline the options that would enable government authorities to access and merge entire datasets - such as education, employment and wealth data - in order to study social trends.

They claim that the data will be anonymised for such purposes, but other proposals in the documents indicate plans to, for example, "improve energy efficiency by matching people's gas and electricity use with information about their property held by the Land Registry" or to identify elderly people at risk from cold weather in the winter.

Furthermore, the documents also contain plans to sell the data to the any organisations providing public services - including outsourced organisations.

However, it will also raise concerns that the government is about to embark on another expensive, high-risk IT project that ultimately risks failure.

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