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November 28, 2016

Digital Economy Bill enters report stage and third reading – experts attack data sharing provision

Expect more controversy before Digital bill becomes law

By Sam

A group of data experts have attacked the provisions for data sharing in the UK digital economy bill ahead of its report stage and third reading in the House of Parliament today.

In a letter to The Telegraph on Friday experts warned of their concerns on information sharing.

CBR’s sister title Government Computing reported.

“The campaign over getting the right legislation in place to support effective “information sharing” while protecting personal data through the Digital Economy Bill has hit the letters page of the national newspapers.”

The Daily Telegraph today (Friday Nov 25th) is carrying a letter from 26 noted information and privacy specialists highlighting their concerns over the Bill’s drafting, and calling for the government to remove its personal data sharing proposals ‘in their entirety’ if the necessary technical and legal safeguards cannot be embedded in the current bill and codes of practice. (NB the letter is behind the Telegraph ‘paywall’)

Under a heading of “Hands off our data”, the letter reads:

SIR – We wish to highlight concerns with “information sharing” provisions in the Digital Economy Bill.

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The Bill puts government ministers in control of citizens’ personal data, a significant change in the relationship between citizen and state. It means that personal data provided to one part of government can be shared with other parts of government and private-sector companies without citizens’ knowledge or consent.

Government should be strengthening, not weakening, the protection of sensitive information, particularly given the almost daily reports of hacks and leaks of personal data. Legal and technical safeguards need to be embedded within the Bill to ensure citizens’ trust. There must be clear guidance for officials, and mechanisms by which they and the organisations with whom they share information can be held to account.

The Government’s intention is to improve the wellbeing of citizens, and to prevent fraud.

This makes it especially important that sensitive personal details, such as income or disability, cannot be misappropriated or misused – finding their way into the hands of payday-loan companies, for example. Information sharing could exacerbate the difficulties faced by the most vulnerable in society.

The Government should be an exemplar in ensuring the security and protection of citizens’ personal data. If the necessary technical and legal safeguards cannot be embedded in the current Bill and codes of practice, we respectfully urge the Government to remove its personal data sharing proposals in their entirety.

Those putting their name to the letter are: Dr Jerry Fishenden , co-chairman, Cabinet Office Privacy and Consumer Advisory Group (PCAG), Renate Samson , chief executive, Big Brother Watch, Ian Taylor , director, Association of British Drivers, Jo Glanville , director, English PEN, Jodie Ginsberg , chief executive officer, Index on Censorship, Dr Edgar Whitley , co-chairman, Cabinet Office PCAG and London School of Economics and Political Science, David Evans , director of policy, BCS – The Chartered Institute for IT, Dr Gus Hosein , executive director, Privacy International and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG, Rachel Coldicutt , chief executive officer, Doteveryone, Roger Darlington , chairman, Consumer Forum for Communications, Dr Kieron O’Hara , associate professor Electronics and Computer Science, University of Southampton, Professor Angela Sasse , head of information security research, University College London and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG,Dr Judith Townend , lecturer in Media and Information Law, University of Sussex,Dr Louise Bennett , chairman, BCS Security Group and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG, StJohn Deakins , chief executive officer, CitizenMe, Rory Broomfield , Ddirector, The Freedom Association, Sarah Gold , director and founder, Projects by IF, Jim Killock , director, Open Rights Group, Guy Herbert , general secretary, NO2ID and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG, Dr George Danezis , professor of Security and Privacy Engineering, University College London and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG, Jamie Grace , senior lecturer in Law, Sheffield Hallam University, Eric King , visiting professor, Queen Mary University, Josie Appleton , director, Manifesto Club, Jen Persson , co-ordinator, Defend Digital Me, Dr Chris Pounder , director, Amberhawk and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG, and Sam Smith , medConfidential and Member of Cabinet Office PCAG.

Government Computing

Read CBR’s report on what is in the Digital Economy Bill


The official description of the Digital Economy Bill:what-is-in-digital-economy-bill

The Bill:

  • covers the provision of fast broadband services through a new ‘Universal Broadband Obligation’ entitling consumers to a minimum speed, enhances switching and compensation for communication services, and a new Electronic Communications Code to deal with phone and internet infrastructure, making the roll-out of new infrastructure cheaper and subject to simplified regulation;
  • provides for greater data sharing between public bodies for certain purposes and in certain circumstances. Datasets may be shared to support public service delivery and in relation to public sector debt and fraud, and to produce research and official statistics. There are also specific provisions for sharing data related to civil registration;
  • updates intellectual property rules for digital industries;
  • introduces age verification for online pornography with penalties for non-compliance;
  • introduces a new statutory code for direct marketing to strengthen enforcement action; and
  • updates the regulation of the BBC by making OFCOM responsible for the regulation of all BBC activities; the Bill also transfers to the BBC from the Secretary of State the ability to make concessions on TV licences relating to age (following the transfer of the cost of free over-75 licences).


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