Labour’s health databases will break the law

The NHS detailed care record and the secondary uses service are among two public sector databases deemed “almost certainly illegal” in a report by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

The trust, which funds campaigns to promote civil liberties, warned that a quarter of public sector databases appear to fall foul of human rights or data protection law.

Privacy problems

The report, which assesses 46 databases from different labour government departments, says more than half of public sector databases have “significant problems with privacy or effectiveness and could fall foul of a legal challenge”.

The trust found that fewer than 15 per cent of the public databases assessed are effective, proportionate and necessary.

Red ratings

The NHS detailed care record and the secondary uses service are both given a red rating by the trust, signifying they is almost certainly illegal under human rights or data protection law.

The NHS summary care record is given an amber rating, meaning the trust believes it has significant problems and may be unlawful.

The report says databases rated as red should be scrapped or redesigned immediately. Amber databases should be independently reviewed.

The computer registers — including the DNA database, the national identity register, the Contactpoint child protection database and the health service patients’ register – all breach human rights and data protection laws, the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust reports.

It argues that they should be scrapped or fundamentally redesigned to take privacy objections into account.

The report, whose joint author, an academic expert on privacy at Cambridge University who is one of the most respected in Britain, warns that ministers are planning to spend a further £100 billion on information technology databases over the next five years while only 30% of big information technology projects succeed.

Claims by the labour government that the databases make the provision of public services such as health easier are dismissed as “illusory”.

In fact, the giant repositories of personal data can expose people to greater risk, particularly the most vulnerable, the research says.

More than half the nearly 50 state databases have “significant problems” in protecting privacy, it adds. Only one in seven of the databases assessed by the study was “effective, proportionate or necessary”.

The report is the most comprehensive and damning study of the creeping culture of state surveillance.

It has been overseen by a team including Ross Anderson, professor of security engineering at the University of Cambridge’s computer laboratory.

Campaigners and opposition MPs say the rapid emergence of Britain as a “Big Brother” society is transforming the relationship between the citizen and the state.

One of the planned databases condemned by the report is a Home Office system to store information on every telephone call, e-mail and internet visit made in Britain.

Jacqui Smith, the home secretary, had been planning to announce the database in a bill last October.

She backtracked after officials in her department reportedly expressed concerns about the legality of the plan. Ministers had been planning to release a consultation paper on their plans in January.

This has now been delayed amid speculation at Westminster that Gordon Brown has ordered ministers to ditch all controversial and potentially unpopular legislation in the run-up to the general election, expected in 2010.

The report says Britain is alone among developed countries in the pace at which it is expanding national database systems.


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