Data Protection: Internet

Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform written question – answered on 16th July 2008.

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Photo of Jim Cunningham Jim Cunningham PPS (Mr Mike O'Brien, Minister of State), Department for Work and Pensions

To ask the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform what recent action the Government has taken to ensure that internet users are not sharing personal information to online companies and third parties without their consent.

Photo of Malcolm Wicks Malcolm Wicks Minister of State (Energy), Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform

holding answer 19 May 2008

My right hon. Friend the Prime Minister asked Richard Thomas, the Information Commissioner, and Dr. Mark Walport to conduct a consultation on the use and sharing of personal information in the public and private sectors as part of their independent Data Sharing Review.

The review team is now analysing the results from the consultation exercise and the report will consider whether there should be any changes to the way the Data Protection Act 1998 operates in the UK and the options for implementing any such changes. The report will include recommendations on the powers and sanctions available to the regulator and courts in the legislation governing data sharing and data protection. It will also make recommendations how data sharing policy should be developed in a way that ensures proper transparency, scrutiny and accountability. My right hon. Friend the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice will publish the report later in the year.

The Data Protection Act gives citizens the right to know what information is held about them and sets rules to make sure organisations handle their personal information properly. The Privacy and Electronic Communications Regulations set out rules for people who wish to send electronic direct marketing, for example e-mails and text messages. The Government and the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) keep legislation under review in the light of ever-increasing technological changes in the field of data protection.

For example on the matter of Phorm, the ICO made a statement on 3 March that it was in discussion with Phorm about the nature of its service and the way it uses information about Internet Service Provider customers. My noble Friend the Minister for Business and Competitiveness has met BT which intends to run a trial using Phorm's service involving around 10,000 broadband users in the near future. The ICO has discussed the trial with the relevant parties and BT has made it clear that, unless customers positively opt in to the trial, their web browsing will not be monitored for subsequent delivery of advertisements. The ICO will maintain close contact with Phorm and BT throughout the trial. It is important that people's privacy is protected, and the ICO, Phorm and BT are all committed to ensuring that any use of Phorm is compatible with the relevant privacy legislation.

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