Straw forced into retreat over ‘Big Brother’ data sharing plan

Justice Secretary seeks to allay fears of a drift towards a ‘surveillance society’

The Justice Secretary, Jack Straw, will make a U-turn over sweeping new powers which were to allow public bodies to swap the data they hold on individuals.

In a clear sign the Government is worried about growing criticism that it is creating a “Big Brother Britain”, Mr Straw is to rewrite his Coroners and Justice Bill to build in new safeguards to protect the public. He will table several amendments to the measure when it reaches its report stage in the Commons next month.

The climbdown comes after MPs from all parties and civil liberties groups warned that the Bill would mark a major departure from the principle that information collected for one purpose by the Government should not be used for another.

Critics are worried that the measure would pave the way for data sharing to be extended in future without fresh legislation. They claim that ministers would be able to approve public bodies handing over sensitive information to companies. Allies of Mr Straw revealed last night that he now accepts the provisions in the Bill were too broad. They said he has asked officials to draw up plans to tighten the provisions in an attempt to allay fears about a drift towards a “surveillance society”, and thus win public confidence in the measure.

However, the Justice Secretary insists that there is still a case for more data sharing to improve public services. For example, a Department of Work and Pensions project will ease the distress of bereaved families by ensuring they have to report a death to the authorities only once. Another scheme will allow families who qualify for free school meals to get help towards the cost of home computers to access government services, without providing documentary evidence about their incomes.

David Blunkett, who is regarded as a hardliner by civil liberties groups after introducing identity cards as Home Secretary, has lobbied Mr Straw to water down his Bill. He is particularly worried about a proposal allowing ministers to make “information-sharing orders” enabling “any person” to share information which includes personal data.

In a speech today, Mr Blunkett will warn that data sharing is a “major area of public concern”. The former cabinet minister will say: “It is not simply whether the intentions are benign – undoubtedly they are – but whether they are likely to be misused and above all what value their use may have.”

Campaign groups welcomed Mr Blunkett as an unlikely recruit into their ranks yesterday. But they warned that his proposal for the Government to replace plans for compulsory ID cards with proposals to force British people to hold passports would not overcome their objections.

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

Poll of Polls

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

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

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 ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own