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February 12, 2016updated 04 Sep 2016 10:17pm

Commons Select Committee calls for better government data sharing and a council of ethics

News: Report warns that care.data scheme cannot afford a second failure.

By James Nunns

Urgent action is required to deal with overcoming public distrust over data sharing, which is one of the calls from a report by the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee.

In addition to this the report, which was chaired by Nicola Blackwood, a Conservative MP, warned that existing data is nowhere near fully exploited with companies analysing just 12% of their data. The report says that if "data-phobe" businesses made good use of their data then they could increase UK productivity by 3%.

One of the ways to achieve this should be by the Government doing more to make its databases open, sharing them with businesses and across Government departments in order to improve and develop new public services.

The report drew attention to the failure of the ‘care.data’ initiative and the importance of not taking patients’ consent for granted, it warned that the Government cannot afford a second failure from a re-launched scheme.

For a big data revolution to happen improvements need to be made on digital skills and infrastructure in addition to the people being able to give their informed consent for how their personal data is used.

The committee warned that if the full value of big data is to be realised then concerns about privacy and security need to be resolved.
Blackwood said: "Big data is also raising legitimate concerns about privacy and the way personal data is being used and sometimes re-used in ways which re-identify previously anonymised data. There is often well-founded distrust about this and about privacy which must be resolved by industry and Government.

Blackwood also recommended the creation of "a ‘Council of Data Ethics’ to explicitly address these consent and trust issues head on. The Government must signal that it is serious about protecting people’s privacy by making the identifying of individuals by de-anonymising data a criminal offence."

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The digital skills gap was highlighted as one of the major barrier to successfully making the UK a leader in big data.

The committee warned that the digital skills gap is approaching crisis levels, which will not only have economic implications but also puts the quality and security of this data at risk.

It has been proposed by the committee that the Government should commit to playing a substantial role in developing data analytics skills in businesses, increasing big data skills for staff in Government departments and more extensively promote the application of big data at a local government level.

Despite these concerns the Science and Technology Committee said that big data in the UK is a success story, saying that 58,000 jobs could be created and £216bn contributed to the economy, equal to 2.3% of GDP over a five-year period.

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