Whitehall officials are trying to revive plans that could allow the government to share confidential details about people’s finances, health and criminal records across different providers of public services.
The data sharing plans being drawn up by the Cabinet Office appear to be similar to proposals dropped by Labour in 2009 after a backbench revolt. At the time, the plans were described by critics as having the potential to “wipe out privacy at a stroke”.
Details emerged in minutes of a meeting held in April by the Cabinet Office’s data team. Under the most radical option, data could even be shared with “all bodies providing public services”, which might allow private contractors to gain access to the data.
“The key bodies may include government departments, local authorities, local emergency services, police, schools,” the document said.
The Cabinet Office acknowledged concerns about privacy were “acutely sensitive” but argued the proposals could help the government recover some of the £37bn it claims is lost each year to fraud and error. “Those committing fraud exploit the slowness of the system by changing tactics regularly. This leaves public authorities ‘playing catch-up’,” it said.
“A more holistic view of an individual’s debt with government can lead to better managed repayment, whilst relieving the pressure that mounting debt can place on those most at need.”
Some of the other suggestions it gave were data sharing to target fuel poverty grants, reducing mortality rates and hospital admissions among vulnerable groups.
Ministers first referred to a draft data sharing bill in July 2013, when Lord Wallace of Saltaire told the Lords: “We are considering whether or not to draft a data sharing and data matching bill for the consideration of the house. We face some very large issues at national as well as at local level, which involve issues of data privacy and identity assurance, all of which we need to discuss within the wider framework of national and international consideration of this as well as consideration by local authorities.”
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