'Borderline insane': Government plans to let HMRC sell taxpayers’ details to private companies

Tory MP David Davis calls plan 'borderline insane'

Taxpayers’ data could be sold to private companies by HM Revenue & Customs, it has been revealed.

The controversial move raises questions over civil liberties and confidentiality and prompted immediate condemnation by Tory MP David Davis who branded it “borderline insane”.

Treasury Minister David Gauke is overseeing the plans to sell information on taxpayers, supposedly anonymously, to businesses, researchers and public bodies where it there is a “public benefit”.

Suitable precautions will, the government insisted, be put in place to ensure all data passed on to third parties is anonymous but there are doubts such a promise can be kept. HMRC is already notorious for its loss of data on 25 million child benefit claimants.

“The officials who drew this up clearly have no idea of the risks to data in an electronic age. Our forefathers put these checks and balances in place when the information was kept in cardboard files, and data was therefore difficult to appropriate and misuse,” Mr Davies told The Guardian.

”It defies logic that we would remove those restraints at a time when data can be collected by the gigabyte, processed in milliseconds and transported around the world almost instantaneously.“

The proposals were originally announced last year but have only now come to public attention. The next stage is for the plans to be published in draft legislation but no date for such a move has yet been set.

A spokesman for HMRC said: ”No final decisions have been taken, but HMRC remains committed to safeguarding taxpayer confidentiality. HMRC would only share data where this would generate clear public benefits, and where there are robust safeguards in place.

“There would be a rigorous accreditation process for anyone wanting access to the data and that any access would take place in a secure environment. Those accessing data would be subject to the same confidentiality provisions as HMRC staff, including a criminal sanction for unlawful disclosure of taxpayer information.

“HMRC will be consulting further and will ask for views on whether to charge to cover the costs of processing and providing anonymised data. This would not be charging for the data itself, purely covering the costs of providing it.”

Plans to release taxpayers’ data comes amid concern among privacy campaigners about the government’s Care.data scheme to share medical records with third parties. Fears that the data could lead to patients being identified has led to the Care.data scheme being suspended for six months.

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