CDEI publishes first report on public sector data sharing

July 22, 2020

The CDEI has published its first report on public sector data sharing, which explores barriers to data sharing and focuses on addressing citizen trust.

The report analyses projects where data has been shared between government departments, and with commercial organisations, identifying recurring barriers, and the steps that were taken to address them. It focuses on citizen trust, which the report argues needs to be addressed if the value of data held is to be maximised. It includes a new framework to drive forward trustworthy data sharing in the public interest.

The CDEI says that data sharing is fundamental to effective government and the running of public services. However,  it is not an end in itself. Data needs to be shared to drive improvements in service delivery and benefit citizens. For this to happen sustainably and effectively, public trust in the way data is shared and used is vital. Without such trust, the government and wider public sector risks losing society’s consent, setting back innovation as well as the smooth running of public services. Therefore, maximising the benefits of data driven technology requires a solid foundation of societal approval.

Key findings

Data is needed not just to develop new technology but also to enable the evaluation of it. The UK will be unable to embrace the opportunities provided by AI unless data held by the government and wider public sector is shared.

The sharing of personal data must be conducted in a way that is trustworthy, aligned with society’s values and people’s expectations. Public consent is crucial to the long term sustainability of data sharing activity.

Addressing legal and technical barriers to data sharing has been the focus of much recent work. Data protection law provides a framework for data sharing. If consistently interpreted and applied, this may help to build and sustain trust. However, there has been relatively limited effort by the government and wider public sector to explicitly address public trust.

Much personal data is shared across and outside the public sector. While this may be for beneficial purposes, public awareness of it is generally low. This gives rise to an environment of ‘tenuous trust’.

Trust can be undermined by the inconsistent interpretation and application of legal mechanisms for data sharing, as well as the adoption of different security and technical standards. This creates a complex and confusing environment which also hinders transparency.

There is also a communication challenge: framing the broader data sharing narrative to articulate how the public sector uses personal data is important. However, this must also reflect what is publicly acceptable.

CDEI will explore the subject of trust in further work with a particular focus on public awareness and acceptability. This can potentially be partially addressed by enabling individuals to have more control over certain data about them. However, trust may also be strengthened by identifying the clear conditions under which it is appropriate to share data in the public interest, without explicit user control or consent.

Where data is shared in the public interest, there needs to be greater clarity about how the public interest is defined and judged. An individual’s right to privacy must be weighed against the rights of other citizens and of communities and society more widely.

CDEI will work with partners to articulate the conditions for public interest data sharing. This will include a consideration of the appropriate system level governance structures and the potential role of an independent body to create an anonymised environment or integrated data infrastructure for access to public sector data. The data held could potentially be used to support areas of innovation that may bring significant public benefits. CDEI will collaborate with partners on use cases where there could be particular value to sharing more data in a way that is trustworthy.

Next steps

In its report, the CDEI lays out an initial framework designed to help those seeking to use data in a way that is trustworthy. 

The CDEI is working with other organisations to apply, test, and revise the framework in different contexts.