CIVIL LIBERTIES Benefit crackdown Bill may compromise rights

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Plans for the pooling of information by government departments to crack down on social security fraud could violate the European Convention on Human Rights, two barristers have warned in a legal opinion. The opinion, drawn up by Richard Drabble QC and Dinah Rose for Liberty, the civil rights organisation, advises of a "substantial risk" that the Social Security Administration (Fraud) Bill would breach Article 8, which guarantees the right to respect for private life and correspondence, because of the breadth of the discretion in the Bill and the lack of safeguards for the prevention of abuse.

The Bill would allow the Inland Revenue and Customs to pass information on individuals for use in the prevention, detection, investigation or prosecution of social security offences. Other government departments would be allowed to pass information on immigration matters or "any other matter which is prescribed" to the Department of Social Security, while the department will be permitted to pass information to councils administering housing or council tax benefit. Patricia Wynn Davie