Repeated breaches of data protection laws by government departments raise huge question marks over plans for the national identity register required for ID cards and biometric passport, an influential parliamentary human rights watchdog has warned.
MPs and peers on the Lords and Commons Joint Committee on Human Rights said repeated losses of personal information by departments had increased their concern, and announced they ” intend to take a close interest in the government’s detailed proposals for the national identity register as and when they emerge.”
In a hard-hitting report the committee insisted the privacy of personal data is guaranteed under the European Convention on Human Rights as well as the Data Protection Act. The report demands that detailed rules must in future be written in to all relevant primary legislation to “help ensure that data protection becomes a primary concern of managers and frontline staff in the public sector.”
The committee listed 18 previous occasions where it had expressed concern at the lack of data protection provisions in government bills, including one creating the unified HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) department – responsible for the 25 million child benefit records data loss last year – where it had flagged up the ” inadequacy of safeguards relating to HMRC information sharing powers”.
The committee questioned the role of justice minister Michael Wills, responsible for data protection and human rights issues – who said he was not personally responsible for ensuring other departments obey the law – insisting he must be more proactive.
The MPs were also surprised to discover government departments have senior officials designated as “human rights champions” about whom it had never heard.
Committee chairman Andrew Dismore said people had been shocked at the loss of child benefit data and demanded individual information should be treated “as sensitively and carefully as hard cash”.
“The government must demonstrate that it appreciates the seriousness of what needs to be done,” he said.
“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 privacy.”