The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) has today released a scathing report, hitting out at the Government’s poor approach to protecting our personal information.
The overriding concern given by the report is one of confusion across Government.
This would be worrying at any time, but with the Digital Economy Bill currently being debated in the House of Lords the issues raised by the PAC must not be ignored.
Part 5 of the Bill outlines the Cabinet Office’s plans to “improve” data sharing of our personal information across Whitehall, local councils, charities and in some cases private companies in order to improve public service delivery but also to create a new digitised approach to our civil registration documents.
Whilst these plans sound like a move in the right direction, little consideration has been given to the security of the data, or the engagement with us; the people providing the data. Indeed, if Part 5 proceeds without amendment, the law will ensure that the Government will control our data and we will have no say or understanding of what is happening whatsoever.
Big Brother Watch are currently campaigning for amendments to Part 5, arguing that the safeguards are too weak, that citizens should have to give their permission every time their information is shared and that no data sharing should happen for spurious reasons.
This report shows we were right to be concerned.
The PAC outline that there is no consistent approach to reporting data breaches across Whitehall, with just two departments allegedly accounting for 98% of all non-reportable data incidents between 2014 and 2015.
Furthermore they raise concern with the skills of the civil servants responsible for protecting the information.
These two areas will be fundamental to the plans in Part 5 of the Bill and yet it is clear that Government is simply not ready to make such sweeping changes to data sharing without looking at the ability of Departments to reach the high expectations.
We are now increasingly digital by default so improving data services is a logical and critical requirement, but improving the way government shares data is not as simple as asking citizens to hand over everything and trust government departments and officials to simply do the right thing with it. If Government believes that the ability to minimise data collection isn’t yet a technical possibility, then the intention should be to ensure that engagement with the citizen by keeping them informed as to what is happening and when with their data is emphasised.
As the wealth of data breaches has revealed, and as the poor performance of officials to explain the problems has confirmed, handing everything over to government departments and wishing for the best with little ongoing engagement with our data, is increasingly looking like a fool’s errand.
We hope that the Lords heed the concerns of the PAC and work together to ensure that Part 5 doesn’t create a data sharing approach which leaves us even more vulnerable to data breach.
If you want to learn more about Part 5 of the Digital Economy Bill and what it means for you please have a look at the range of Factsheets we have produced on it.