Government has ‘persistent failure to take data protection seriously’

Parliament`s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights says repeated losses of personal data are “symptomatic of the Government’s persistent failure to take data protection safeguards sufficiently seriously”.

Mar 27, 2008
By Paul Jacques

Parliament`s Joint Select Committee on Human Rights says repeated losses of personal data are “symptomatic of the Government’s persistent failure to take data protection safeguards sufficiently seriously”.

Chair of the Committee, Andrew Dismore MP, said: “People were shocked by the recent loss of child benefit data but that was far from a one-off. In fact, it was symptomatic of lax standards in the public sector. Information should be treated as sensitively and carefully as hard cash. It should not be sent in the post unregistered and unencrypted. It has taken the massive data loss by HMRC to bring the true consequences of the piecemeal approach to data management to light. The Government must demonstrate that it appreciates the seriousness of what needs to be done.

“The fundamental problem is a cultural one. There has been a rapid increase in the amount of data sharing in the public sector, which can be useful, important and necessary. But this has not been matched by the even more necessary strong commitment to safeguard the right to respect for personal data.”

The Committee said setting out detailed rules and requirements in primary legislation would help ensure that data protection becomes a primary concern of managers and front-line staff in the public sector.

The Committee is concerned that the recent breaches in data security do not inspire confidence about the proposed National Identity Register. It will closely scrutinise the detailed plans for the register as they emerge, as well as the outcome of the various current reviews of data protection legislation and practice.

The Committee also questions the role of the Minister with responsibility for data protection, who only learned of the massive data loss from HMRC at the same time as the public. The Committee believes the Minister’s role is far too limited. The Minister’s brief should include a central role in Government to champion best practice protection across Government and ensure lessons are learnt from breaches

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