The House of Commons Sci/Tech Committee’s report on Digital Government sets out a direction of travel, something lacking from Government in recent times, but some of the details are disturbing.
The committee diverge from the Information Commissioner and 2018 Data Protection Act which are quite clear that consent is not a legal basis generally available for the routine delivery of most public services.
In paragraph 29, the committee justify unique identifiers for people on the basis of evidence about unique identifiers for objects or company numbers. Did they not notice the difference? While the Home Office may treat UK residents like cattle, numbered and tracked, that’s not what is usually expected by Parliament. The principle is a good one, the Committee’s suggestion is internally contradictory.
Paragraph 23 implies the Lib Dem led committee believe citizens should have no right to approve or object to to sharing any data that isn’t “sensitive personal data” such as “ethnicity, State of residence, and sexuality”. Such a framework would significantly weaken data rules protecting citizens and would be a radical change in the law to suggest by accident, giving even more power to a future data controller in chief.
In more positive news, the top line, that “The Government should facilitate a national debate on single unique identifiers for citizens to use for accessing public services along with the right of the citizen to know exactly what the Government is doing with their data” is a public debate that is necessary. The single unique identifier is a bad idea, but there are better ideas that should replace it in a genuine public debate. Consider the current Home Office and next-Prime Minister, how many windrush-style mistakes will they make with your single identifier? And what happens when they decide to take it away from someone you care about?
With the top line from the committee, it is increasingly untenable that the NHS continues to withhold from patients how data about them was used – a place where the infrastructure is in place and identity is already known.