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Blair wants Whitehall to share your data

London Telegraph | January 16, 2007 
George Jones

The Government was accused yesterday of setting up a database "from the cradle to the grave" on every citizen after Tony Blair announced plans to make it easier for departments to share information.

Opposition parties and civil liberties groups warned that any shared database across Whitehall and local government would be "ripe for corruption and fraud" and would breach people's privacy.

Sir Menzies Campbell, the Liberal Democrat leader, said Britain now had the "most intrusive Government in our history" and urged a halt. Oliver Heald, the Conservative constitution affairs spokesman, accused the Government of "moving one step closer to a Big Brother state with a database from the cradle to the grave."

He said the Government had already created a "database state" through the use of "potentially intrusive and sinister" computers. The Valuation Office Agency was building a database of every home for a council tax revaluation.

Government plans for more data sharing would allow the tax inspectors to raid other state databases such as the new Home Information Pack database to build detailed records of taxable features in homes, such as patios, scenic views and gardens.

Plans for compulsory ID cards now involved a series of databases, effectively turning town halls into state snoopers, and allowing residents to be being fined up to £2,500 for not registering their name or address, Mr Heald said.

Microchips were being fitted by stealth inside household dustbins across the country to allow town halls to introduce new bin taxes on top of council tax.

Mr Blair claimed that the proposals for data-sharing had been misrepresented by the Opposition and by civil liberties groups, who claimed it would breach privacy.

He said the Government would go ahead with consulting voters through so-called "citizens' panels", which would gauge reaction to relaxing privacy procedures so people did not have to repeat information to different bodies particularly at times of stress such as a family death.

Mr Blair told representatives of the private, public and voluntary sectors attending a Downing Street seminar: "This is a very good example of how a perfectly sensible thing can be misconstrued. The purpose of this is not to create a new piece of technology at all or a new database.

"This is about sharing data in a sensible way so the customer gets a better service."

The idea of allowing Whitehall departments to access centrally-held data emerged during a policy review of public services. In theory, people would notify officials just once of a change of address or of a bereavement, with local authority, tax, driving licence and other records being updated automatically.

The review team, headed by John Hutton, the Work and Pensions Secretary, concluded that it was difficult for services to be as flexible as people wanted because of rules on data protection. He cited an example of a family who had 44 contacts with Government over 180 days after a family member died in a road accident.

Mr Blair said that pensioners wanting to claim tax credit or housing and council tax benefit would be able to go to one place. Sharing patient records through a computerised NHS database could save lives by enabling doctors and nurses in another part of the country to see records.

The consultation is due to finish at the beginning of March with a final panel at Downing Street.

 

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