Quarter of UK's databases are 'illegal'

Little thought given to privacy, study warns

One in four of the major government databases is almost certainly illegal and should be scrapped, a report says. The national DNA database, the proposed national identity database and the ContactPoint system, which will hold records of all children in England, are among the systems singled out for fundamental reform or abolition.

Researchers called for 11 systems assessed as "almost certainly illegal" under human rights or data protection law to be scrapped or substantially redesigned.

The study, by the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust, also pointed to significant legal and practical problems with a further 29 databases, including the national childhood obesity one and the planned NHS summary care record system, and said they should be reviewed independently. Privacy experts were asked to compile the report after two discs listing the entire child benefit database went missing in 2007. Researchers said data-sharing should be authorised only for strictly defined purposes, and said sensitive personal information should be collected and shared only with the individual's consent.

The report's co-author, Professor Ross Anderson of Cambridge University, said: "Britain's database state has become a financial, ethical and administrative disaster which is penalising some of the most vulnerable members of our society. Often, computerisation has been used as a substitute for public service reform rather than a means of enabling reform. Little thought is given to safety, privacy and value for money."

Researchers highlighted legal problems with systems that held sensitive data where there was "no effective opt-out" such as ContactPoint, the index planned to record English children's relationship with public services. The report said: "Many question the consequences of giving increasing numbers of civil servants daily access to our personal information. Objections range from cost through efficiency to privacy. The emphasis on data capture, form-filling, mechanical assessment and profiling damages professional responsibility and alienates the citizen from the state."

A Home Office spokeswoman said: "We recognise the absolute necessity of striking the balance between the rights and privacy of the individual and the ability to disrupt, prevent and investigate crime effectively. That is why the Home Secretary [Jacqui Smith] has made it clear that a 'common sense' test must be applied to every action in this area to make sure it is proportionate, transparent and robust safeguards are in place.

"For example, the National Identity Scheme and ID cards will have independent oversight built in from the start, with every citizen given the right to see their data and who has accessed it. Technology such as DNA and CCTV is providing clear benefits in deterring and detecting crime, securing convictions and reducing fear of crime."

'Criminal' records Singled out for abolition

*National DNA Database

Holds 4 million individual profiles

ContactPoint

A national index of all children in England

*The NHS Secondary Users Service

Summaries of hospital and other treatments

*The Common Assessment Framework

Children's welfare needs

*ONSET

A Home Office system used to determine whether young people are at risk of offending

*Dept for Work and Pensions data sharing programme

Matches data with government and outside agencies

*Audit Commission National Fraud Initiative

Matches data within central and local government bodies to detect fraud and error

*The Prum framework

An international agreement which allows police information to be shared

PROPOSED

*Communications database Would bring together details of emails, telephone calls and web use

*National Identity Register Will store biographical information and biometric data linked to ID cards

*The NHS Detailed Care Record Will hold GP and hospital records

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...