The UK government has once again come under attack over its proposals for a centralised database system.
Critics argue that centralising the public's personal data, and sharing that information between departments such as health and social services, the police, schools, local government and the taxman, holds potentially dangerous outcomes for individual privacy.
While Downing Street continues to press ahead with its Transformational Government strategy and the Shared Services agenda, claiming benefits to the citizen, the Conservative Party is offering to roll back the amount of centralisation, a stance that has been welcomed by privacy experts and government leaders.
Shadow security minister Baroness Pauline Neville-Jones told public sector officials in London this week that, even though technology enables great things, such as the cheaper provision of services through automating processes, and safeguards to national security, it cannot change the fact that the individual is the rightful owner of their personal information.
"The state is merely the processor and should behave as a responsible custodian," said Neville-Jones, arguing that the government's centralisation programme is breaking the Data Protection Act.
"Crucially, the requirement that the individual be automatically informed when his data is processed is not met nor is the right of access to it," she said.
"I would like to know how the individual can even be aware that data is being collected if there is no obligation on the collector to inform. The state, it seems to me, is behaving as if it owned our information, not you and me."
Neville-Jones called for all those that have access to the public's personal information to state their purposes for collection, and proposed moving away from centralised data collection to separate and disaggregated information systems and databases.
"I think it shameful that this country, which prides itself on being a progenitor of individual liberty, and which is supposed to keep the powers of the state in check, should have allowed this situation to arise," she concluded.
Anthony Grayling, professor of philosophy at the University of London and Cambridge University, has argued that the growth of Britain's surveillance society is not a party political issue, pointing to how former Conservative home secretary Michael Howard licensed the set up of CCTV cameras in public spaces around Britain.
Grayling, who has just publishsed a book entitled Liberty in the Age of Terror, maintains that, although the government set its highest duty as defeating terrorist attacks, the public should be reminded that this idea clashes with the beliefs of John Stuart Mill, and other liberal philosophers who have greatly influenced our parliamentary democracy, in that the protection of individual liberty should be the government's highest duty.
Grayling believes that a key problem with the government's agenda is that it is partly led by technology companies, which stand to benefit financially each time the government undertakes a new centralised computer system.
"They have lobbied hard and effectively, persuading the government that it can deliver security and efficiency by centralising data and introducing surveillance technologies," he said. "This is a worry, as there is little discussion on how the introduction of technology damages liberty."
The connection of centralised IT systems with loss of individual liberty is also acknowledged by leading figures running government services.
Phil Pavitt, the outgoing chief information officer at Transport for London, explained this week that he disliked the term "centralising IT".
"We are building true shared services. In the old days there were centralised services, de-centralised and federated, but shared services are run through a central function and delivered locally," he said.
The sheer number of government databases was highlighted in March by the Database State (PDF) report from the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.
The report identified just six of the 46 central government databases as safe, suggesting that the public is neither served nor protected by the increasingly intrusive holding of personal information.
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