Privacy and Data Protection

We support the principles that are enshrined in UK data protection legislation. These are based on an EU Directive which we believe sets out an effective framework for the protecting the rights of UK citizens in this area.

Data Protection legislation accepts that the rights it creates are not absolute. There are circumstances where public interest may override these rights. We accept that the right to privacy can be breached where protecting it would be contrary to the public interest or freedom of information.

Where there appears to be a need for such a breach of the right to privacy we would wish to see the proportionality test rigorously applied. This would place the onus on those seeking the breach to demonstrate that it would be proportionate to the public interest they are seeking to advance.

The best way to ensure that the proportionality test is being correctly applied is for there to be independent oversight of requests for breaches of privacy. We do therefore support a system of judicial oversight for the interception of communications and intrusive surveillance.

The Government has made it clear that it wishes to develop common databases integrating the information it holds about citizens in various discrete systems at present. From the point of view of effective system design there could be considerable advantages to common data standards and exchanges of information between government systems. But this does also naturally raise concerns about the scope for potential abuse of personal information. As systems become more accessible and integrated they can be used to do more good for the citizen but if they were abused they could also do more harm to the citizen.

We believe that Government must be take the approach that it has in effect a contractual relationship with citizens to hold data on their behalf. This means that it should only hold data where this can be justified in the public interest. Government has no business holding personal data for any reason other than in carrying out its functions in serving the public. It should explain why it is holding data and consider whether there is broad public agreement to that data being held. It should seek the consent of the citizen for the collection of that data and explain the purposes for which it will be used. And it should publish explicit rules for the exchange of data between various arms of Government showing why such exchanges are necessary.

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