3:52 pm - January 23rd 2009
Currently if anyone wants our data in this country they have little to no luck in obtaining it (unless they ask a company registered to sell your information, but even then you need to opt-in), the Data Protection act stops anyone from being able to share our information around willy-nilly. The only body that has comprehensive legal paths to obtain our data, no matter what, are the police and security services. If this happens, then it is only in matters of national security or child protection that the police may contravene the Data Protection Act.
Essentially what this means is that the state has the power to watch you if it has sufficient belief that to do so would prevent a crime that would threaten the security of the UK, or the welfare of children, but no more than this. The new Coroners and Justice bill contains clauses that will blow this out of the water, completely destroy such boundaries to our civil liberties and allow the government to effectively become the managers of our personal data.
What does this mean to you and me, the normal, law-abiding citizens of the country? Well first take a look at this paragraph…
50B Information-sharing orders: supplementary provision
1) An information-sharing order may—
(a) confer powers on the person in respect of whom it is made;
(b) remove or modify any prohibition or restriction imposed (whether by virtue of an enactment or otherwise) on the sharing of the information by that person or on further or onward disclosure of the information;
(c) confer powers on any person to enable further or onward disclosure of the information;
(d) prohibit or restrict further or onward disclosure of the information;
(e) impose conditions on the sharing of information;
(f) provide for a person to exercise a discretion in dealing with any matter;
(g) enable information to be shared by, or disclosed to, the designated authority;
(h) modify any enactment.
Wow, big words and confusing language. But don’t worry, what it essentially says is that a government minister that wants to share our personal information can also remove any existing laws relating to that data (such as that it can’t be used for commercial purposes, i.e. spammers), allow whoever is sharing the data to be allowed to share it with others without your consent, or to just get the information for themselves.
And for what purposes would they do that? For terrorists? Child molestors? Let’s see this paragraph…
50A (4) A designated authority may make an information-sharing order only if it is entitled to make the order by virtue of section 50C and it is satisfied—
(a) that the sharing of information enabled by the order is necessary to secure a relevant policy objective,
(b) that the effect of the provision made by the order is proportionate to that policy objective, and
(c) that the provision made by the order strikes a fair balance between the public interest and the interests of any person affected by it.
Nope, they would relax these laws to secure a policy objective. It also tries to ensure that there is a “fair balance” between you having your information used however the government deems to be right and “public interests”. This is wooly language at best, and given that the only time this point (part 4, section c) is going to get contested is at an appeal it doesn’t really matter. After all…they don’t have to tell you they’re taking your data, so how do you know to appeal?
But that idea of securing a policy objective is interesting. Let’s look at an example policy objective that has existed for the Department of Transport.
Encourage passengers to cycle to stations, especially as an alternative to driving
So long as no-one appeals it, it would be perfectly legal after this bill for the government to get records of all people parking at train stations through ANPR, allow them to share data with the DVLA, and then pass that data on to a private body that would commercially target them to cycle instead. They decide that they can do this, no-one, not even the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has the power to stop them.
And finally, “by virtue of section 50C”…
50C Designated authority: entitlement to make an information-sharing order
(1) An appropriate Minister is entitled to make an information-sharing order only if the sharing of information enabled by the order is for the purposes of—
(a) in the case of the Secretary of State, any matter with which a department of the Secretary of State is concerned;
(b) in the case of the Treasury, any matter with which the Treasury is concerned;
(c) in the case of any other Minister in charge of a government department, any matter with which that department is concerned.
(2) Where more than one appropriate Minister is entitled to make an information-sharing order by virtue of subsection (1), any one or more of the appropriate Ministers acting (in the case of more than one) jointly is entitled by virtue of this section to make the order.
We’ve already seen that control orders can break down all your legal safeguards over your data, and allow it to be given to anyone the government likes without your consent. We’ve seen that they can do this based on any official government policy objective aims, no matter how small or large. Now we also see that anyone in the cabinet can make these decisions, with no judicial oversight whatsoever, so long as it relates to their department.
Essentially there is as good as no restriction on who in the government can do this, no oversight except from a toothless ICO that can’t do anything about it, and they can do what they like with your data as they share it around.
And what if they find something else in this information that they’re harvesting so that they can prop up businesses that meet their partisan policy objectives with our information? Something they don’t like?
50B(2) An information-sharing order may provide for the creation of offences triable either way which are punishable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, by imprisonment for a term not exceeding the specified period or to a fine or to both;
(b) on summary conviction, by imprisonment for a term not exceeding the specified period or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.
Well look at that, could it be that they can take that information and literally conjure up an offence to convict you with? For example, if they are looking to convict anyone with an email address that contains the word “bomb” they could create an offence in line with that, and through the data sharing issue warrants for the arrest of those people. One can only hope that in reality this ambiguous term is actually only intended to relate to those that misuse the data, not those being spied upon.
And let’s not forget that all of this only means anything to you and me, the law-abiding (or maybe not so law-abiding) citizens of this country, as the authorities and governmental individuals of this country are, of course, exempt to any of this and so can never be scrutinised in the way they will intend to scrutinise us. The exact mentality that was present in the Labour plan to conceal MP Expenses from the tax payer.
This government wants to be overlords of information, it wants to be the one that says if your data can be given to a private company, not you. Isn’t that a scary enough idea, in a nation where we absolutely hate anything of an unsolicited nature, to Write to your MP and protest this bill right away? If you don’t do it in the next couple of days, you may regret it in the future. Time is fast running out.
This is a version of a post cross-posted from Program your own mind
Lee is a 20 something web developer from Cornwall now residing in Bristol since completing his degree at the lesser university. He has strange dreams, a big appetite, a small flat, and when not forcing his views on the world he is probably eating a cookie. Lee blogs independently from party colours at Program your own mind.
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@glynmoody Another case of Civil Servants recycling old and defeated ideas. I wrote about it first time around. http://t.co/QylsPgL2
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