Disclosure of information by civil registration officials

Digital Economy Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 25th October 2016.

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Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy) 4:45 pm, 25th October 2016

I beg to move amendment 97, in clause 38, page 36, line 15, at end insert—

‘(2A) An authority or civil registration official requiring the information must specify the reasons for requiring the information to be disclosed.

(2AA) Information disclosed under this section shall not be shared with any other public or private body beyond those specified in subsection (1).”

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 107, in clause 38, page 36, line 12, leave out from “that” to end of subsection and insert—

“(a) the authority or civil registration official to whom it is disclosed (the “recipient”) requires the information to enable the recipient to exercise one or more of the recipient’s functions and,

(b) the data subjects whose information is being disclosed have given valid consent under data protection legislation.”

This amendment would remove bulk sharing while allowing certificates to be shared to support electronic government services.

Photo of Louise Haigh Louise Haigh Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport) (Digital Economy)

These provisions, more than any others in relation to civil registration officials, have surprised and confused those involved in the data-sharing proposals and the open data policy-making process, as they were never mentioned in the more than two years of discussion about data sharing in that open policy-making group. In the Government’s consultation response, they said that

“a large number of individual respondents and representatives from civil society stated strong opposition to the proposed power providing the ability for the bulk sharing of data, believing that the power would effectively create an identity database and enable personal data to be shared between public authorities even where there is no public benefit to do so.”

The amendments would address exactly that.

The publicly stated policy intent of the clause is to allow a citizen interacting with the Department to allow that Department to confirm their civil registration information electronically. That could undeniably enable better informed decision making, allocation of resources and service delivery, and would support the modernisation of public services. However, as drafted, the legislation also allows the entire civil registration database to be copied over to arbitrary locations for arbitrary purposes. That is not the same thing as a citizen allowing access when using digital services.

There are further concerns about the clause’s lack of compliance with the Data Protection Act 1998. Civil registration documents will be shared in bulk to improve service delivery where there is a clear and compelling need, according to the Bill. However, “clear and compelling” remains a lower test than the Data Protection Act’s “necessary and proportionate”, and is likely to be challenged. The use of bulk data runs counter to the Centre for the Protection of National Infrastructure guidance, which warns of the risks associated with bulk data, particularly from hostile foreign intelligence services.

The example given by Government that would require the sharing of civil registration data is around child reference numbers, which become national insurance numbers. National insurance numbers used to be attached to child benefit. It worked on the assumption that every parent would claim child benefit for their child and, when that child reached 15 and a half years of age, their national insurance number would be dispatched.

When the Government changed their policy on child benefit and effectively restricted it to parents who earned less than £50,000 per year, that created a potential problem for the assigning of national insurance numbers. The proposals will presumably address the problem by using birth-certificate data to inform who should be issued with NI numbers and when. That seems a perfectly reasonable and sensible method to correct an unintended consequence of the changes to child benefit policy, but can the Minister give us any other examples of when and why such bulk data sharing would ever be necessary or proportionate? The example I have just run through is incredibly specific and I hope that it would not be and is not repeated across Government.

Clause 38 states:

“A civil registration official may disclose information under this section only if the official is satisfied that the authority or civil registration official to whom it is disclosed…requires the information to enable the recipient to exercise one or more of the recipient’s functions.”

That suggests that consent is to be moved away from citizens to officials, leaving the latter to decide when to share personal data, even if the data were not provided by the citizen for that purpose. That highlights a notable characteristic of the Bill: its apparent intent to move the control of personal data away from citizens and to officials. It proposes that the decision on what to share and with whom will be determined by regulations made by the “appropriate national authority”, which means the relevant Minister. Consent to use personal data will thus be moved away from the citizen to the Minister and, in practice, to officials.

Amendment 107 would require any disclosures under the provision to have the consent of the citizen or their legal representative, and would thereby prevent disclosures or all entries in bulk under the legislation. It would also remove any bulk sharing, simply enabling the sharing of information relevant to the task at hand.

Amendment 97 would require the authority or civil registration official to specify the reason for disclosing information and ban the sharing of information beyond those individuals or bodies specified in new section 19AA(1). Given that that is made explicit in all the other chapters of part 5 of the Bill, we assume it is an oversight that it has not been included in chapter 2.

I sense that the Government Whip is trying to catch my eye.

Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Graham Stuart.)

Adjourned till Thursday 27 October at half-past Eleven o’clock.