Clause 66

Serious Crime Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 5 July 2007.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

The clause would insert additional wording in schedule 3 to the Data Protection Act 1998. The disclosure of sensitive information will be permitted if it is processed for the purpose of disclosure to an anti-fraud organisation of the kind that we debated this morning, or is processed by that person after being so disclosed—in other words, if it is then processed thereon. The question is: why is the clause needed? The list of sensitive personal data that are covered is broad in ambit, and it goes much further than might be perceived necessary for a simple anti-fraud purpose. It has provoked some concerns among various groups. Liberty’s briefing note says:

“We fear that this provision might instead be included because it would be too difficult in practice to separate out this kind of sensitive information from non-sensitive information which is contained in a single source of data that would be shared under these proposals.”

It adds:

“Administrative convenience is not a sufficient justification for the mass sharing of sensitive data.”

The Minister may say that the provision is required, and that it is an essential element in the fight against crime. However, it is wide ranging, and he must provide  a justification for it, an assurance that it is not based on the administrative convenience that Liberty has highlighted, and a clearer understanding of the provision’s necessity, so that we might consider it accordingly.

Photo of Vernon Coaker Vernon Coaker Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Home Office) (Crime Reduction)

The clause inserts a new paragraph in schedule 3 to the Data Protection Act 1998 to facilitate the sharing of sensitive personal data, as the hon. Member for Hornchurch says, for the purpose of preventing fraud. The first data protection principle prohibits the processing of sensitive personal data, unless one of the conditions in schedule 3 to the Act is met. For example, paragraphs 7(1)(b) and 7(1)(c) of schedule 3 state that processing is necessary

“for the exercise of any functions conferred on any person by or under an enactment, or for the exercise of any functions of the Crown, a Minister of the Crown or a government department.”

The Secretary of State may by order add further conditions under schedule 3.

Although many public bodies will be able to rely on one of the current conditions in or applied under schedule 3, it is unlikely that the existing conditions would cover all cases of data sharing to prevent fraud. Therefore, the clause provides an additional condition that is tailored to anti-fraud data sharing and will facilitate such data sharing. It does not decrease the threshold of data protection which applies under the Data Protection Act.

I must stress that the provision is not a move to overturn the Data Protection Act or the principles that form its basis. The clause will not remove the need for data controllers either to comply with the data protection principles or to satisfy the conditions for an exemption from them, such as the exemption for crime prevention. The clause simply helps data controllers to comply with the additional requirement of the Act which relates to sensitive personal data when information is shared to prevent fraud. Although many bodies would already be able to comply with one of the existing conditions for sharing such information, the clause provides consistency throughout the full range of bodies that will share the information.

Section 2 of the Data Protection Act defines sensitive personal data; the definition includes information about political opinions, religious beliefs and racial origins of the data subject. It also includes information about the commission or alleged commission by the data subject of any offence. That part of the definition is relevant in this context. The definition also includes criminal proceedings for any offence committed or alleged to have been committed by the data subject. Again, that part of the definition is of obvious relevance in the context of the disclosure of information for the prevention of fraud. However, it is also possible that in disclosing information relating to offences or suspected offences, other sensitive personal data are necessarily disclosed. For example, information that a person was suspected of claiming sickness benefit for longer than he was entitled has the effect of disclosing information about his physical health, namely that he was initially entitled to such benefit. Physical or mental health or condition is also included in the definition of sensitive personal data.

Although many of the disclosures to an anti-fraud organisation will be covered by one or another of the existing conditions, not all will. That is why we are  bringing forward the additional conditions. Under clause 66, all the information that is disclosed would have to be necessary for the prevention of fraud. In addition, the body sharing the information would have to do so either as a member of an anti-fraud organisation or in accordance with the arrangements made by such an organisation, so that data sharing will be subject to the rules of the anti-fraud organisation.

Furthermore, individuals will be informed that their data may be shared for the purpose of fraud prevention at the point that they provide the data. Individuals will be able to require the Information Commissioner to assess whether their data are being processed in compliance with the Data Protection Act. The commissioner may also investigate whether the data controller is complying with the Act on his own initiative. He will also be able to investigate using his normal powers and, where appropriate, he will be able to use an enforcement notice to require the data controller to take steps to comply with the Data Protection Act. With that explanation, I hope that the Committee will allow clause 66 to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of James Brokenshire James Brokenshire Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed explanation of the need for clause 66. What he said has been helpful in setting out the context, and the reasons and rationale of why this measure would be needed practically, and he has also addressed the concerns that have been highlighted elsewhere. I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.