Data Sharing Review Report

July 13, 2008

Few SCL members will have failed to note that the crucial report from Richard Thomas and Mark Walport on data sharing was published on 12 July. It includes a series of observations, especially about the need for cultural change, which data protection lawyers may see as being a trifle fluffy and which cynics might easily dismiss as the sexed-up input of Downing St. But the report includes enough meat to make its 80 pages required reading.

The Foreword mentions a number of points of obvious importance:

A strong regulator is also needed to facilitate these cultural improvements. It is essential that the regulator has sufficiently robust powers and sanctions available to it; and that it is resourced adequately. We welcome recent changes in the law to provide the Information Commissioner with a power to impose financial penalties for wilful and reckless breach of the data protection principles and call on the Government to implement these changes quickly. We also believe that stronger inspection and audit powers are required and that new funding arrangements to enable effective enforcement are long overdue. We also recommend an important change in the nature of the office of the Information Commissioner in order to improve the provision of guidance and the regulatory oversight of the handling and sharing of personal information. We recommend that a Commission with a supporting executive team replace the single Information Commissioner.
There should be a statutory duty on the Commission to provide a code of practice for the sharing of personal information to remove the fog of confusion about the circumstances in which personal data may be shared. Where there is a statutory bar to the sharing of personal information, we recommend a fast-track legislative framework that will enable transparent Parliamentary consideration as to whether the bar should be removed for particular purposes. Public policy needs to be based on the strongest possible evidence, which requires research and statistical analysis. We make recommendations that will enable such research and statistical analysis to be undertaken in a way that provides the maximum protection to the privacy of individuals.

The recommendations span a wide range of issues. As the report states the challenges arise in a number of areas and it includes detailed recommendations:

• to transform the culture that influences how personal information is viewed and handled;

• to clarify and simplify the legal framework governing data sharing;

• to enhance the effectiveness of the regulatory body that polices data sharing;

• to assist important work in the field of research and statistical analysis; and

• to help safeguard and protect personal information held in publicly available sources.
The report sets out 19 detailed recommendations for changes to data protection laws and regulations. These include proposals to restrict sales of the edited Electoral Register.

The report may be found at