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Privacy advocates call for Digital Economy bill revision

Fri 25 Nov 2016

Houses of Parliament

UK privacy advocates and technology experts have voiced concerns over the new data sharing provisions to be included in the Digital Economy Bill, due for third review by the House of Commons on Monday.

In a letter published in the Telegraph, 26 leaders of technology and privacy groups indicated that the government’s focus should be completely reversed – rather than sharing data interdepartmentally within the government, and releasing it to private companies, the government should instead be focused on increasing technical and legal protections to prevent dissemination of personal information.

Should the government be unwilling or unable to restructure the Digital Economy Bill for increased protections for the data of citizens, the group urged the government to completely remove the provisions in the bill related to sharing personal data throughout government departments and with private sector companies.

The stated concerns revolve around the possibility that sensitive personal details could be misappropriated. For example, private data regarding income or disability could be shared with predatory payday loan companies, which could “exacerbate the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in society.”

Instead, the group is pushing for more controls over data sharing, with increased security and clear guidelines for the release of personal data to a different group within or outside of the government.

The government defended the data sharing provisions in the Digital Economy Bill in a statement released with the bill’s first review this summer, noting that the government often misses opportunities to help citizens based on the way that data is currently stored and shared. The statement read, “Proportionate and secure sharing of information will give

The statement read, “Proportionate and secure sharing of information will give government the facts and figures needed to develop and deliver policies and services to the right people at the right time, whilst ensuring that data is kept safe and secure.”

It went on to note that each clause in the bill includes data protection safeguards and complies with the Data Protection Act to prevent data from being shared inappropriately.

However, privacy advocates are concerned that the definitions of ‘data sharing’ included in the bill are too vague, and that while the bill requires there to be a ‘valid benefit’ to information sharing, the group that submitted the letter to the Telegraph would like to see “clear guidance for officials, and mechanisms by which they and the organizations with whom they share information can be held to account.”

Stated concerns also include the government’s tendency toward sharing of information in bulk, where targeted sharing of less information would accomplish the same ends.

The Digital Economy Bill has already come under fire for a separate provision, requiring stricter safeguards for age verification by pornography websites. It also includes provisions for the Broadband Universal Service Obligation, proposed by the LGA, which aims for a minimum 10 Mbps broadband access for all citizens of the UK.


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