UK data watchdog issues Big Brother warning

By Andrew Thomas

THE UK INFORMATION COMMISSIONER’S OFFICE (ICO) has warned that bureaucrats share citizens’ data with each other willy-nilly and citizens probably don’t even hava clue that it’s going on.

The body has published new guidance to help individuals understand how and why their personal information may be shared by organisations, and to explain their rights under the Data Protection Act.

The ICO is an independent organisation set up to enforce and oversee the Data Protection Act, the Freedom of Information Act, the Environmental Information Regulations, and the Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations.

Iain Bourne, Head of Data Protection Projects at the ICO, said: “More and more information is being shared about us, often for useful and wholly legitimate purposes. It is important that individuals are aware of their rights under the Data Protection Act.

“Information about an individual is sometimes shared within the same organisation or between several different organisations for a number of reasons. For example, a local authority may use information supplied on a council tax form to help other departments update their records; the police may share information with a local authority to help counter anti-social behaviour in the area; or a teacher might share information about a child with a social worker and health professional so that the child’s needs can be addressed.”

The ICO warns that, while information sharing is often expected and reasonable, it can also take place without an individual’s consent and that if an individual is asked to consent to information sharing they should have a genuine free choice.

Under the Data Protection Act individuals have the right to access the information which organisations hold about them. The guidance states that organisations sharing information should be able to tell the public what the information is, who it is being shared with and why it is being shared.